While this year’s influenza season is predicted to peak around early February, anybody of any age group, sex or nationality is at risk of infection all the way through March.

While 210,000 children under age 10 accounted for almost a third of the 660,000 flu cases reported in the week of Jan. 13 to 19, another 200,000 patients were made up of people in their 30s and 40s, according to data released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Following are questions and answers on how to prevent the flu and what measures to take if you do come down with it:

How does influenza differ from a normal cold?

A cold is generally triggered by different kinds of viruses, and involves such symptoms as sore throat, nasal discharge and coughing, but normally these aren’t severe, and a fever, if present, isn’t so high.

Influenza is caused by the influenza virus and normally comes with a fever of over 38 degrees and the sudden appearance of systemic symptoms such as a headache and joint and muscle pain.

People who develop any of these symptoms should consult a doctor as soon as possible, as the flu can sometimes cause complications such as acute encephalopathy in children and pneumonia in the elderly or those with low immunity to diseases.

Does the flu vaccine prevent infection?

The vaccine reduces the chances of getting sick after infection. It can also reduce the severity of symptoms when a person does come down with the flu.

As the vaccine doesn’t take effect for about two weeks after inoculation, the best time to get a shot is around mid-December.

What measures can be taken to prevent infection?

Lately, products have come on the market billed as having “a chlorine dioxide generator” with the ability to kill viruses and bacteria. The products include room dispensers, devices you wear around your neck and sprays for face masks.

More orthodox measures are washing hands after going out, sanitizing hands using an alcohol formula, spending as much time as possible in adequate humidity (50 to 60 percent) and avoiding crowded places.

What should you do if you’re diagnosed with influenza?

Take adequate medication prescribed by a doctor, get plenty of rest — sleep is especially important — and try to take lots of liquids.

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