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Influenza (or “the flu”) is a respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. Flu outbreaks are most common during the late fall, winter and early spring.

Common flu symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea

Severe flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, respiratory failure or even death, may occur in certain cases. The flu may also make chronic medical conditions worse. If you have any underlying conditions, talk to your doctor to see if your condition raises your risk for flu complications.

In addition, some flu symptoms can look like COVID-19. If you think you might have COVID-19, start a risk assessment now.

Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person, normally through droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it, then touching their mouth or nose.

Infected people may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming sick. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

First, and most importantly: Get a flu vaccination as soon as it is available. In addition to being vaccinated, you should take everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause illnesses like influenza.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following these steps to protect your health:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap for 15 to 20 seconds, especially after you cough, sneeze, eat, or use the restroom. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces – such as doorknobs, desks, keyboards and phones – to help remove germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • Try to stay in good general health: Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

See more of the CDC’s flu resources.

If you become ill with flu-like symptoms, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness. If you are concerned about the severity of your symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care provider, or start a video visit or eVisit. Your provider will determine whether influenza testing or treatment is needed.

If you experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care immediately.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Yes. Oseltamivir, zanamivir and baloxavir marboxil are available to treat influenza. However, most people with mild flu cases do not require antiviral drugs, which is a kind of medicine used specifically to treat viral infections. Antivirals should only be considered for those sick enough to be hospitalized or those at a higher risk for complications due to an underlying condition, like lung disease or a weakened immune system. Your healthcare provider will decide whether or not your illness requires antivirals.

Since the flu is a virus, your doctor will not prescribe antibiotics. Learn more about the different germs in your body and when antibiotics are prescribed.

People with influenza should be considered contagious as long as they have symptoms and possibly for up to 7 days after getting sick. Children, especially younger children, and immunocompromised individuals may be contagious for longer periods.
We know that some viruses and bacteria can live for 2 hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, light switches and desks. It’s important to keep these frequently touched surfaces clean. Frequent handwashing will also help you reduce the chance of catching the flu from surfaces.