The 2018-2019 flu season is already starting. If you’re unlucky enough to get infected, here’s what a doctor says you can expect.
When you have the flu, you want it to go away as soon as possible. Unfortunately, although flu symptoms may begin suddenly, the virus doesn’t tend to be speedy—and you can be contagious before you even realize it.
How long does the flu last?
The influenza virus can be in your body for one to four days before you begin to experience symptoms. Then it’ll hit you—hard.
“You will be feeling relatively fine, and—boom—you are suddenly exhausted, have muscle and joint aches, and need to lay down in bed,” explains Gregory Poland, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group.
Typically the first symptoms are fever, chills, muscle and body aches, and/or fatigue. Then you may notice other symptoms such as sore throat and dry cough. The fever can last two to four days, while other symptoms can last for up to a week. “You may not feel totally up to speed for more than two weeks,” Dr. Poland says.
You may be able to treat your influenza at home. However, see a doctor if your fever continues to rise, you don’t feel better within three to five days of first noticing your symptoms, you have shortness of breath, and/or you cough up green sputum.
How long is the flu contagious?
Before you even experience symptoms of the flu, you are contagious. You can pass the virus from about a day before the first symptoms up until about five to seven days after. Children may be contagious for longer than a week.
Since you can spread the flu virus for so long, it’s important to stay home if you are sick. “As soon as you are aware of any symptoms, you should not be in school or at work,” Dr. Poland says. “Return when you are no longer coughing and no longer have a fever.” Going back to your normal routine—including any exercise—too early can hamper your recovery. Also practice common-sense and be sure to wash your hands and sneeze or cough into a tissue and throw away the tissue.
If you must leave the house while ill, consider buying a face mask from the dollar store. “This isn’t the kind that will filter out viruses, but it keeps awareness at the top of the mind, and when you wear it, you can’t put your finger in your nose or mouth,” Dr. Poland explains. “Plus when you cough or sneeze accidentally, you’re constraining that.”
For those who aren’t sick and want to stay that way, getting the flu shot, washing your hands, and avoiding touching your face are the best ways to prevent contracting influenza. “The average American is putting their finger in their eyes, nose, or mouth every 15 to 30 seconds, so you want to avoid that,” Dr. Poland says.