Influenza season begins

WHO/Faith Kilford Vorting

WHO recommendations emphasize the inclusion of pregnant women (any trimester) and children aged 6-59 months in national vaccination programmes for influenza

Influenza is an acute viral infection that primarily attacks the nose, throat and lungs. Seasonal influenza affects about 5–15% of the population each year. The WHO European Region is entering the start of the influenza season, when people are more likely to become ill.

Influenza travels easily, spreading through the air, usually from coughs and sneezes, but also from people’s hands. People can spread the virus even before they know they have it, from a day before they notice any symptoms until 5–7 days afterwards.

Influenza symptoms

Symptoms can include fever, chills, cough, headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Although mostly mild, influenza can be serious or even fatal in rare instances.

How to stop influenza from spreading

Basic hygiene can help to stop influenza spreading: use a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw it away afterwards. Sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. If you have influenza-like symptoms, stay at home until a day after your fever has gone, except for essential trips, and stay away from other people as much as possible.

About the influenza vaccine

Influenza vaccines are safe and have been used for over 60 years.

The disease can be more serious among some groups: more than 90% of deaths related to seasonal influenza are among people aged over 65. WHO therefore recommends that the vaccine be offered to: people who live in nursing homes, are elderly and/or disabled, or have chronic medical conditions; pregnant women; health care workers; and small children (starting from the age of 6 months). The most recent update to WHO’s recommendations emphasizes the inclusion of pregnant women (in any trimester) and children aged 6–59 months in national vaccination programmes.

As different viruses circulate each year, a seasonal vaccine is developed annually to fight the most common viruses around. It is therefore important to be vaccinated every year.

WHO surveillance and guidance

WHO/Europe collects surveillance data on influenza viruses and the number of cases of influenza in the 53 countries in the European Region to find out what type of virus is circulating, where and how many people are becoming sick. WHO/Europe publishes this information in a weekly bulletin – Euroflu – on its web site, from mid-October to the end of the seasonal influenza season in April.

WHO/Europe also develops and publishes guidance and recommendations for health professionals, those who study and track influenza, and the public. The guidelines cover a range of issues, such as recommendations for influenza vaccination, case management and standards for infectious-disease and influenza laboratories.