Everything You Need To Know About the Flu

Health Topics

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

The word “flu” is used to describe all sorts of symptoms. But do you know what it really means?

The flu is a respiratory infection that affects your nose, throat, and lungs, and is caused by one of several influenza viruses. The illness varies from mild to severe forms and is very contagious.

The different types of flu virus include:

  • Influenza A. This virus infects people, birds, pigs, horses, and other animals. The strains that affect people are H1N1 and H3N2. This type of flu is the most severe. Influenza A is included in the flu vaccine each year.
  • Influenza B. This virus affects people and causes more mild symptoms than influenza A. It is also included in the seasonal flu vaccine.
  • Influenza C. This virus causes mild illness in people and occurs less frequently than influenza A and B. The flu vaccine does not guard against influenza C.
  • Avian flu. Bird flu, or H5N1, is a subtype of influenza A that is highly contagious in birds. Humans become infected by direct contact with infected poultry.

Symptoms Range From Mild To Severe

Anyone can get the flu, which spreads easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Flu can cause mild to severe symptoms and can sometimes lead to death. 

The flu usually starts quickly, and you feel worse than if you have a cold. Symptoms include:

  • Body and muscle aches
  • Cough
  • Fever, but not always
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea and vomiting, in some cases

The flu affects your whole body. You generally start to feel sick one to four days after you are infected with the virus.

If you have asthma or lung disease, you are at a high risk for complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.

Family physician Josh Ordway, MD, talks about the differences of flu and pneumonia, which can result from the flu. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Learn How the Flu Virus Spreads

“Influenza is spread quite easily,” says family physician Christopher Lauricella, DO. “It’s spread by droplets when a person sneezes or coughs or otherwise just opens up their mouth. And these droplets can span a distance, sometimes up to six feet.”

The virus enters your body through your nose or mouth by way of the air, or when you touch a contaminated surface and bring your hand to your nose, eyes, or mouth.

“There’s a lot of controversy about how long the flu virus can stay alive on a surface such as a countertop,” Dr. Lauricella says. “But two to three days later you start feeling sick, maybe a high fever and body aches.”

Dr. Lauricella talks about how flu viruses spread.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Between 5 and 20 percent of people in the United States get the flu each year. If you have the flu, you are most contagious in the first three or four days after you start to feel sick. However, you can begin passing on the virus to others a day before your own symptoms start and as late as five to seven days after your symptoms develop.

And some people, including children and those with weakened immune systems, can spread the virus longer than that.

Diagnosis And Treatment

Tests are available to diagnose the flu, including:

  • Swab test. A sample is taken from your nose or throat to check for the presence of flu virus.
  • Nasal aspirate. A saline solution is injected into the nose and then removed to test for flu virus.

If you test positive for the flu virus, your doctor can prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce symptoms and help your body fight the infection.

Family physician Anoopa Hodges, DO, explains how the flu is diagnosed. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

You should stay home from work or school if you have the flu. Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest.

“The best treatment for the flu depends on the individual,” says Dr. Hodges, DO. An otherwise healthy person, she says, can usually do well with fluids and rest. “Keeping from getting dehydrated is very important and resting as much as possible.”

She adds, “If the symptoms are caught and treated within 48 to 72 hours, that could shorten the course of the influenza.” That’s the window for taking antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu® and Xofluza™, that prevent the flu virus from replicating and stop the disease life cycle.

People with underlying chronic heart or lung diseases “should be seen (by their health care provider) simply because if they have any alarming symptoms, they may need further treatment and further evaluation.”

Dr. Hodges talks about treatment of influenza.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Know the Risks For Flu Complications

Most people recover from the flu in about a week. Certain people are more at risk for flu complications, including the elderly, the very young, and anyone with asthma, lung disease, or other chronic conditions.

Flu complications include:

Dr. Hodges explains the groups of people who are at higher risk of getting the flu. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Take Steps To Prevent the Flu

The best way to prevent the flu is to get the yearly flu vaccine. Other ways to help keep you and your family healthy include:

  • Practice good hygiene.
  • Cover your cough.
  • Use proper hand washing techniques.
  • Do not share eating utensils or cups.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you are unable to wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands.

Dr. Lauricella talks about steps to take to help family members stay healthy when someone in your house has the flu. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.