Staying Healthy‎ > ‎

Flu Information

Influenza, also called the flu, is a viral infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. 

It is often confused with other illnesses, especially the common cold. The flu is more severe than a cold, usually comes on suddenly, and is caused by a different virus. 


What are some symptoms of the Flu?

The most common symptoms are chills, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, weakness, and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea.

Most people who have the flu get better within a few days to a couple of weeks. 

In some people, the flu causes other problems, such as dehydration, ear infections, sinus infections, and pneumonia. Serious complications from the flu can happen at any age, but they are more likely in children younger than two years and in adults 65 years and older. The flu can also make certain health problems worse, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart problems.

How is Flu spread?

Flu is spread through body secretions, such as coughs or sneezes, or by shaking hands or touching objects that have been handled by someone with the flu, such as doorknobs, grocery cart handles, money, elevator buttons, remote controls, telephones, and computer keyboards.

Flu symptoms usually start about two days after the virus enters the body. This means you can spread the virus to others even before you know you are sick. People with the flu are contagious for up to 24 hours after their fever ends. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. These people can still spread the virus to others.

What can I do to prevent the Flu?

  • Get a flu shot. Shots aren't perfect, but they can help prevent flu, and protect others around you who may be at high risk. 
    • Everyone six months and older should get a flu shot each year.  
    • Get a shot as soon as they are available each fall.  
    • Shots take 1-2 weeks to begin protecting you.  
    • You CANNOT get the flu from a flu shot.  
    • The flu virus mutates continuously, so last year's shot is not going to protect you when this year's flu comes around.
  • Stay away from people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and hot water, and wash for at least 15 seconds. Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for times when you’re away from a sink.  Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, drink a lot of water, and eat a healthy diet.

What should I do if I get the flu?

If you have symptoms of the flu, do not go to work or school. Stay home and get plenty of rest, drink a lot of water, and do not smoke or drink alcohol. 

  • Most people who get the flu do not need to see a doctor.  If you are miserable, but are still breathing well, you will do all of us a favor by staying home until you are feeling better.
  • Patients who are very ill, or at high risk from becoming very ill, DO need to be seen by a provider.  Very young children (≤2), older adults (≥65), and people with certain medical conditions (heart disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer, HIV) are more likely to get very sick from the flu. These people may need to see a doctor.

Go to the emergency room right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing Bluish skin color
  • Trouble drinking enough fluids
  • Trouble waking up
  • Fever with a rash
  • Symptoms that get better, but then return with fever and worse cough

In adults

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Dizziness or Confusion
  • Severe vomiting
  • Symptoms that get better, but then return with fever and worse cough

Do I need medicine?

Over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) [500-1000mg every 6 hours] or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) [200-600mg every 6 hours], can help with fever and muscle aches. Children and teenagers should not take aspirin because it can cause a rare but serious liver disease. 

    Most people who get the flu do not need prescription medicine

    • Because the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics do not help. 
    • Medicines called antivirals (Tamiflu) reduce symptoms by about a day, and may reduce symptoms. On the other hand, they have not been shown to keep otherwise healthy people from winding up in the hospital, and they can cause vomiting and other problems themselves.  These antivirals are usually reserved for people who are very sick and need to be hospitalized, or for people who are likely to get serious complications from the flu.  If they are used widely in patients at low risk, they will become less effective for people at high risk over time.

    Your provider will decide whether you need antiviral medicines.

    Where can I get more information?

    The above information is stolen in large part from the American Academy of Family Practice.  The original on which it is based can be found here.

    This is the telephone triage algorithm we are using when you call to decide how best to treat patients with flu symptoms: