Mar 16, 2015 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


Does it feel like you get “the flu” every year?

People don’t get an influenza infection as often as they may think, according to a new study published in the medical journal PLOS Biology. Influenza infections occur in adults older than 30 about twice per decade, the research indicates. Kids tend to catch influenza more often, about every other year.

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness. Flu symptoms—congestion, severe aches and pains, runny nose, cough—are similar to symptoms of a cold; however, a fever typically accompanies the flu.

"For adults, we found that influenza infection is actually much less common than some people think. In childhood and adolescence, it is much more common, possibly because we mix more with other people,” explains the study’s senior author, Steven Riley, a scientist at Imperial College London.

So why does it seem that we experience flu-like symptoms every year?

“We feel like we are getting ‘the flu’ more often because we are getting similar types of viruses,” says Rick Henriksen, MD, a family physician at University of Utah School of Medicine. “Many people refer to getting ‘the flu’ when they get parainfluenza, rhinovirus, adenovirus and a variety of other types of viruses.”

But just because we catch influenza less frequently than thought, it is still important to get vaccinated every year. The influenza vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against what can be a deadly virus. 

“The frequency of influenza has decreased as we have increased use of the flu vaccine,” Henriksen says. But it’s still just as contagious.

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