Flu symptoms and when to seek medical care
Flu symptoms include: Five to seven days of fever, significant body aches, headache, sore throat, nasal and chest congestion, cough and fatigue. If you have a fever over 100 degrees, stay home and avoid contact with other people until the fever is gone. If you have a fever over 101 that lasts for more than 12-24 hours, a cough for more than ten days, or an extremely sore (bright red or spotty) sore throat, you should see your primary care doctor. If other symptoms cause you concern, call your doctor for advice.
If you have mild flu or other non-urgent, non-emergency symptoms, we recommend avoiding emergency rooms or urgent care centers for health care advice. You can’t “cure” a cold or flu with medication but there are many ways to help you feel better. Colds and flu primarily affect your ears, nose, throat and eyes, and several over-the-counter medications may relieve some of your symptoms in a few days.
If you are experiencing flu symptoms and you're in a high-risk group (young children, over age 65, pregnant or have a certain medical condition such as asthma, diabetes or another chronic illness) or are very sick and worried about your illness, contact your primary care doctor. If you are providing care for an infant, elderly person or someone with a chronic illness who has a cold or flu, seek medical advice promptly.
Cold and flu prevention
What can you do to minimize your risk of catching the flu or a cold virus? Be smart. Get ready for the cold and flu season. Take action to minimize your chances of getting sick.
- Wash your hands. The best way to prevent a cold or the flu is to avoid exposure to viruses that cause them. Those viruses are in microscopic droplets of bodily fluids that we all exhale constantly. That's why researchers suspect that our hands may be the biggest culprits in spreading colds and flu. Washing your hands regularly, especially after being around cold and flu sufferers, is an excellent preventative measure. So is keeping your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes.
- Use disposable tissues. Although viruses must be inside a body to grow and thrive, they can survive for a short time outside on such things as handkerchiefs, phones, doorknobs, etc. You can easily infect others or reinfect yourself. Use disposable tissues whenever possible and remember to wash your hands frequently.
- Routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, including kitchen and bathroom counters, doorknobs, desks, phones and computer keyboards.
- If you have flu symptoms, stay home and avoid contact with other people. Spreading the flu is far more costly than taking the necessary time off to get well.
How to fight the flu
You can’t “cure” a cold or flu with medication but there are many ways to help you feel better. Colds and flu primarily affect your ears, nose, throat and eyes, and several over-the-counter medications may relieve some of your symptoms in a few days. But they don’t always work for everybody. What you mostly need is time— time for your body’s immune system to do battle with the particular virus that’s got you down.
While your immune system is at work, you can take some steps to relieve the aggravating symptoms you’re experiencing. If you decide to use medication, read labels carefully and, as with any drug, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions. Here are some tips from Michael Castleman, author of Cold Cures (New York, Ballantine Books, ©1987):
- Get some rest. Your body works hard to throw off a cold or flu, which is why you may feel lethargic.
- Drink plenty of fluids. They help relieve sore throats and nasal congestion and prevent dehydration.
- Take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®), Ibuprofen (such as Advil®) or buffered aspirin for headaches, body aches or fever. Additionally, recent reports suggest that zinc lozenges can help reduce viral symptoms. Read labels carefully to guard against side effects. Children under 18 should not take aspirin for colds or flu because of its association with Reye’s syndrome, a serious and often fatal disease.
- Don’t suppress productive coughs; they can help clear the respiratory system. Suck on hard candies to soothe dry coughs. Over-the-counter cough medicines containing dextromethorphan can be effective against both kinds of coughs.
- Be considerate. Avoid other people for the first few days when your illness is in its most contagious stage. This benefits you as well as others since it may be possible to “re-catch” a virus from those you infected.
Still have questions?
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/flu for up-to-date information on the current flu season, including detailed information on flu activity.