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Influenza, or flu, is a common respiratory illness caused by a virus. Flu is an infection of the lungs, nose, and throat. Flu symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, flu can be life-threatening.
Flu spreads easily person to person:
You may be able to spread the flu virus before you even know you are sick. You may be contagious for 7 days or longer after becoming sick.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine.
Other ways to help stop the spread of flu include:
Flu symptoms include:
In severe cases, the flu can cause breathing problems, pneumonia, or other life-threatening complications.
Some people are at higher risk for serious illness with the flu. These include:
Close monitoring is important for people with weak immune systems. But even healthy children who get the flu can become quite sick. Talk to your health care provider about any symptoms that worry you.
A lab test can diagnose flu. This is usually done in a clinic or at a doctor’s visit. Your health care provider will swab the nose or the back of the throat to collect a sample. The sample is then tested to see if it is positive for the flu virus. The most common types of seasonal flu virus are influenza A and influenza B.
Your health care provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine to treat the flu. This medicine helps keep the flu virus from reproducing.
Flu antiviral medicines work best if you start taking them within 2 days of becoming sick. This can reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the time that symptoms last.
Flu antiviral medicines are available in pill, liquid, inhaled powder, or intravenous (IV) forms. They are only available as a prescription from your health care provider. These medicines only work on the flu virus and should not be used to treat other types of infections.
Your health care provider may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to treat flu symptoms. Talk to your provider about what OTC meds are safe to use.
To help manage symptoms of the flu:
Seek medical care if symptoms get worse or do not improve.
Most people have mild or moderate flu symptoms. But some people can get very sick. Watch for emergency warning signs such as:
This list includes some common warning signs, but there may be others. In a medical emergency, go to the emergency room or call 911.
It is possible to have both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory infections. The symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can be the same.
The flu vaccine will not protect you from COVID-19. And the COVID-19 vaccine will not protect you from the flu.
If you have symptoms, your care team will likely test for both illnesses. The test results can help your care team decide the best treatment.
Reviewed: December 2023