Several weeks ago, we talked about the importance of getting your flu shot. Well the flu season is now getting started in a big way, so I thought we might talk about how you can tell if you do have the flu, and what you should do if you think you might have it.
What is the flu?
The flu is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The flu can cause mild to severe illness. It can make you feel absolutely miserable. The symptoms usually start very suddenly and progress quickly. Serious complications of flu infection can lead to hospitalization and even death. There are 2 main types of flu, Types A and B, with multiple different strains of each type. Although some people refer to stomach viruses as the “stomach flu”, those are actually caused by viruses that are very different from the influenza virus, and that is not part of our discussion this week.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Most common symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever/chills (Although, occasionally people will not have fever with the flu.)
- Muscle and joint aches
- Sore throat
- Fatigue or feeling tired and drained
Less common symptoms that are possible with the flu include:
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea (These symptoms are more common in children who have the flu than adults.)
What are the possible complications of the flu?
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Worsening of chronic conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, COPD, or diabetes.
How long does the flu last?
Most symptoms get better within 5-7 days, but some people still feel drained for weeks after the flu.
How does the flu spread?
The flu is spread from one person to another. A person with the flu can spread it to someone up to 6 feet away from them! Experts believe that the flu is spread mainly by tiny droplet made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or even talk. These droplets are not really visible to the naked eye in most cases. The droplets can land directly on another person or be inhaled by them. They can land on the hand of the person with the flu, who then shakes your hand, or touches other objects that you touch shortly afterward. Most adults get the flu from being exposed at work.
When is a person with the flu contagious to others?
People who are infected with the flu are the most contagious in the first three to four days of being sick. But, it might surprise you to know that most healthy adults may actually be able to infect others starting the day before they start having symptoms, and up to 5-7 days after they start having symptoms. Children may be contagious for even longer than 7 days.
Most people will become sick with the flu within 2 days of being exposed, but the illness can begin anywhere from one to four days after exposure.
Next week we will talk more about the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of the flu. Remember, it’s not too late to get your flu shot!
If you have any questions about the flu, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.
Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor