How to Tell if I Have the Flu

The flu (influenza) is a contagious infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by a virus that enters through your nose or mouth. Each year, between 5% and 20% of people in the United States get the flu. Influenza can be serious if not properly treated, especially for the elderly, for babies, and for people with certain chronic illnesses. Find out how to tell if you have the flu and understand the differences between the flu and other respiratory infections like the common cold.

How to Tell if You Have the Flu:

  • Flu symptoms are typically more severe than cold symptoms and come on more quickly
  • Flu symptoms include:
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Sore throat
    • Muscle aches
    • Congestion
    • Coughing
  • Flu symptoms usually improve over about a week, but can sometimes last longer
  • You may have a slight fever with a cold; the flu, however, commonly causes a temperature of 100-102 and usually lasts about 3 or 4 days
  • Many people with the flu report extreme exhaustion, which is a symptom that is rarely associated with the common cold
  • Seek medical attention within the first 24 hours of experiencing flu-like symptoms, and your doctor can perform a simple test to tell if you have the flu

Prevention is the best fight against the flu:

  • Most doctors recommend getting a yearly flu shot
  • Since influenza viruses are spread through contact, wash your hands regularly and keep them away from your eyes, nose and mouth, to prevent the bacteria from entering your body
  • Disinfect surface areas that are frequently used

What to do if you catch the flu:

  • Stay at home
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Stay hydrated
  • See a doctor if your fever lasts longer than 4 days, or if you experience painful swallowing or persistent coughing

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The content presented on this page is not intended to diagnose health problems or take the place of professional medical care.