Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. People get sick from seasonal flu viruses every year. Flu can cause illness ranging from mild to severe. In some cases flu can lead to hospitalization and even death. Most people who get the flu will have a fever and cough or sore throat. They may also have a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, a headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting, or diarrhea. Is it the flu or a cold?
What you should do if you think you have the flu
Seek appropriate care
- First, check with your primary care provider. Milder cases of the flu are often better treated by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility than in an emergency department.
However, some cases of the flu should be treated in an emergency department. Go to an emergency department if you have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, or are experiencing flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
- If you are not sure if you need to go to the emergency department, contact your primary care provider. He or she will be able to guide you through the next best step for you or your child. (Most offices have physicians on call after hours.)
- Stay home if you are sick. If you have flu-like symptoms (fever plus a cough or fever plus a sore throat), stay home from work, school, or child care until you have been fever-free (temperature less than 100.4 degrees F/38 degrees C) for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
- Rest, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid using alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
- Consider using over-the-counter medicines such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve symptoms. Children younger than 19 years old should not be given aspirin to treat the flu.
- Check with your healthcare provider about any special care you might need if you are pregnant or have an underlying health condition.
- Tell your doctor if you've had flu-like symptoms or felt ill after returning from destinations with health travel advisories.
- Consider antiviral medications. Antivirals are prescription medicines used to treat the flu when people are very sick or at high risk of flu-related complications. In order to work, they must be started within 2 days after getting sick. During a pandemic, antivirals may be prioritized for people at high risk of serious flu complications. more
What you should do to avoid the flu
Flu vaccine is safe and is the best defense against the flu. The Office of Immunization provides flu vaccination at no cost for students in kindergarten through grade 12 at school-based clinics. Most evening clinics are open to the public (ages 3 and up). School-located clinics have ended for the season. You can get vaccinated at your doctor's office or at a pharmacy (adults only).
Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends intramuscular inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) for children in the 2018-2019 season as it has been more consistently effective against most strains of flu in recent seasons, but says the nasal vaccine (LAIV) may be an option for kids who otherwise will not be vaccinated.
Who should get vaccinated
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot every year, and it is especially important for people in the following groups to be vaccinated:
Practice good health habits
Flu viruses spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near another person. They may also spread when people touch something covered with infected droplets and then touch their eyes, mouth, or nose.
- Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel. more
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Flu is spread through coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent others from getting sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.
- Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.