Health care

Flu – Influenza


Flu commonly known as Influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Typical symptoms include fever, body aches, coughing, and nasal congestion. Those with underlying health issues or pregnancy are at higher risk for severe complications. The most effective method for preventing the flu is to receive an annual vaccination.

When is flu season?

The peak of flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, including the U.S., is typically from December to February, with cases of the Influenza increasing dramatically from October through May.

How common is the flu?

During flu season in the U.S., approximately 20 to 40 million people are infected with the virus, making it one of the most prevalent infectious diseases.

Difference between the flu and the common cold?

The flu and the common cold share some symptoms such as a runny nose and cough, but the flu tends to have more severe symptoms and can lead to complications. Colds are typically milder in comparison. It is important to note that colds and the flu are caused by different viruses.

How I know if I have the flu or COVID-19?

Getting tested is the only way to determine whether you have the flu or COVID-19, as they share similar symptoms. Both illnesses pose a risk of serious complications, but they are caused by different viruses and require different treatments.

Who is at greater risk of complications from the flu?

Certain underlying health conditions increase the risk of developing severe illness from the flu, which may result in life-threatening complications requiring hospitalization. Factors that may heighten the risk of serious illness include:

  • Having asthma, COPD, or another chronic lung disease
  • History of kidney, liver, neurological, heart, or blood vessel disease
  • Conditions affecting muscle function or airway clearance
  • Diabetes
  • Weakened immune system
  • Blood disorders like sickle cell disease
  • Obesity (BMI greater than 30)
  • Age (under 5 or over 65)
  • Pregnancy
  • Regular use of aspirin in individuals under 19
  • Residence in a long-term care facility

Additionally, non-Hispanic Black individuals, non-Hispanic American Indians, Alaska Native people, and Hispanic or Latino individuals are more likely to experience severe illness from the flu compared to non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Asian individuals.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of the flu?

The flu typically presents with sudden onset symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches, cough, headache, sore throat, congestion, fatigue, and occasionally diarrhea or vomiting in children. It is possible to experience some but not all of these symptoms. You may not have all of these symptoms.

What causes the flu?

The  is caused by the influenza virus, with types A, B, and C being the most common in infecting humans. Influenza A and B are seasonal, typically occurring in the winter with more severe symptoms. In contrast, Influenza C does not cause severe symptoms and remains consistent in case numbers throughout the year. H1N1, also known as swine flu, and bird flu are subtypes of Influenza A.

Is the flu contagious?

Yes, this is contagious (it spreads from person to person). For every person infected, they spread the flu to one to two more people.

How does the flu spread?

The flu virus can spread through direct or indirect contact with an infected person. Ways in which the flu can be transmitted include:

  • Inhaling droplets from someone nearby who is coughing, sneezing, or talking, which can enter your nose or mouth and travel to your lungs.
  • Touching surfaces contaminated with the flu virus and then touching your face, nose, mouth, or eyes. Commonly touched surfaces like door knobs, desks, computers, and phones can harbor the virus.
  • Coming into contact with an infected person’s hands or face and then touching your own face, nose, mouth, or eyes.

How lengthy after exposure will I get the flu?

If infected, you’ll usually get symptoms of the flu one to four days after exposure (incubation period).

How is the flu diagnosed?

Your provider will diagnose the flu by evaluating your symptoms and conducting a test using a sample of mucus from your nose. They will insert a swab with a soft tip into your nose to check for influenza. The results can be available within a few minutes, or your provider may send the sample to a lab for testing, which can take a day or two to receive.

How is the flu treated?

Under certain circumstances, providers may prescribe antiviral medications to treat the flu. These medications can help reduce the risk of severe illness and shorten the duration of sickness. While many individuals can manage the flu without prescription medications, antivirals may be recommended if you have had symptoms for less than 48 hours, have underlying health conditions, are at risk for severe illness, or live with or care for individuals who are at risk for complications from the flus. It is important to start antiviral treatment early, as they are less effective if taken after the virus has had time to multiply in the body and the immune system has already begun to fight it off.

What medications treat the flu?

Antiviral drugs for influenza include:

  • Oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu®). You take oseltamivir by mouth as a pill or a liquid. You usually take it for several days.
  • Zanamivir (Relenza®). You breathe zanamivir in through your mouth with an inhaler. You usually have to take it for several days. Zanamivir isn’t recommended for people with breathing issues, like asthma or COPD.
  • Peramivir (Rapivap®). Your provider gives you peramivir directly into your veins using an IV. You usually only need one dose of peramivir.

Tell your provider about any health conditions you have before starting an antiviral medication.

How could I manage symptoms of the flu?

Many individuals can manage flu symptoms at home using over-the-counter medications and various therapies such as rest, staying hydrated, applying heat packs, and taking pain relievers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs. Decongestants, cough suppressants, and expectorants can also provide relief from specific symptoms. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before using certain OTC medications, especially when combining them with other medications or supplements. Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 without medical approval.

How could I prevent the flu?

Getting the flu vaccine every year is the most effective way to prevent the flu. Vaccines help your immune system recognize and fight off infections before you become ill. Since the influenza virus can change slightly each year, it is important to get vaccinated annually. Even if you do get sick with a different strain of the flu, being vaccinated reduces the chances of severe illness.

Your healthcare provider can administer the flu vaccine through a shot or a nasal spray. In addition to getting vaccinated, there are other steps you can take to lower your risk of catching the flu. These include washing your hands frequently with soap and water or using hand sanitizer, covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, wearing a mask if you are ill and around others, refraining from touching your face, and not sharing food or utensils with others. By following these precautions, you can help protect yourself and others from getting sick.

What can I hope for if I have the flu?

The majority of individuals can effectively handle flu symptoms at home and typically experience recovery within a few days to a week. However, given its potential to lead to serious illness, it is crucial to monitor your symptoms closely and seek medical assistance if necessary, particularly if you have a preexisting health condition. If you are suffering from the flu, it is recommended to avoid contact with others except for when seeking medical treatment.

How deep does the flu last?

It can last from a few days to two weeks. Symptoms like fever and body aches can come on suddenly but usually go away faster than other symptoms. A cough or runny nose can last longer.

How long is the flu pandemic?

You can spread Influenza from a day before your symptoms appear until up to a week afterward. You’re most contagious during the first three to four days after your symptoms begin. Those with weakened immune systems and infants might remain contagious for a longer period.

When can I go back to work/school after Influenza?

To prevent spreading the flu, avoid returning to work or school until at least 24 hours have passed since your fever subsided without the aid of fever-reducing medications. Be sure to check if your employer or school has specific guidelines for when you can return.


The flu virus can cause complications on its own or weaken your immune system, making you susceptible to bacterial infections in various parts of your body (secondary infections). These complications and secondary infections can include:

– Ear infections.

– Sinus infections.

– Severe lung infection (pneumonia), which can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and other life-threatening conditions.

– Pregnancy loss (miscarriage).

– Neural tube defects (NTDs) in the developing fetus of a pregnant person.

How many people die from the Influenza each year?

In a typical flu season in the U.S., it is estimated that 20,000 to 50,000 people die , and another 300,000 to 500,000 are hospitalized due to serious illness.

When should I see my healthcare service provider?

If you suspect you have the flu, it’s crucial to get tested early, as antiviral medications are most effective when started promptly. Contact a healthcare provider immediately if:


– You have flu symptoms and an underlying condition that increases your risk for severe illness.

– Your symptoms do not improve after seven to ten days, or if you have a fever lasting longer than three days.

– You are pregnant and experience a fever or other Influenza  symptoms.

When should I go to ER?

Go to the ER or seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of severe illness, such as:


– High fever (over 103°F/40°C)

– Difficulty breathing

– Little to no urine output

– Persistent chest or abdominal pain

– Persistent dizziness

– Confusion

– Severe muscle pain or weakness

– Seizures

– Bluish skin, lips, or nails (cyanosis, indicating low oxygen levels)

– Fever or cough that improves but then worsens

– Worsening of other health conditions

List of questions should I ask my doctor?

– How should I take my medication?

– Which over-the-counter medications are safe to use?

– How can I treat my symptoms at home?

– What severe symptoms should I be aware of?

– When should I go to the ER?

– When should I schedule a follow-up with you?

– How long might it take for me to feel better?

Additional required information

While this is very common, it’s also important to remember that it can lead to life-threatening Getting your flu shot is the best way to prevent and protect your loved ones and neighbors. If you have underlying health conditions or are pregnant, talk to your provider about ways to reduce your risk. Although having the flues is unpleasant, most people can manage it at home with rest, movies, and chicken soup.

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