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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is influenza?

Influenza (the flu) is an infection caused by the influenza virus. The virus spreads through direct contact with someone who has the flu. For example, a person with the virus on his or her hands can spread it by shaking hands with someone. You may be able to spread the flu to others for 1 week or longer after signs or symptoms appear.

What increases my risk for the flu?

  • Living with or caring for someone who has the flu
  • Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Living in close quarters with others
  • A medical condition such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or lung disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Age older than 50 years
  • A weak immune system caused by HIV, AIDS, an organ transplant, or another condition
  • Traveling to places where other people have the flu

What are the signs and symptoms of the flu?

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches, body aches, and muscle or joint pain
  • Cough, runny nose, and sore throat
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble breathing

How is the flu diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask if you have other health conditions. Tell your provider if you have traveled recently or been around anyone who is sick. Tell your provider if you are pregnant. A sample of fluid may be collected from your nose or throat to be tested for the flu virus.

How is the flu treated?

Most people get better within a week. You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Antivirals help fight a viral infection.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest as much as you can to help you recover.
  • Drink liquids as directed to help prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

What can I do to prevent the spread of germs?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Cover a sneeze or cough. Use a tissue that covers your mouth and nose. Throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Use the bend of your arm if a tissue is not available. Wash your hands well with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Stay away from others while you are sick. Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Ask about vaccines you may need. Talk to your healthcare provider about your vaccine history. Your provider can tell you which vaccines you need, and when to get them.
    • Get the influenza (flu) vaccine as soon as recommended. The vaccine is usually available starting in September or October. Flu viruses change, so it is important to get a flu vaccine every year.
    • Get the pneumonia vaccine if recommended. This vaccine is usually recommended every 5 years. Your provider will tell you when to get this vaccine, if needed.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have trouble breathing, and your lips look purple or blue.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You have new pain or pressure in your chest.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are dizzy, or you are urinating less or not at all.
  • You have a headache with a stiff neck, and you feel tired or confused.
  • You have new pain or pressure in your chest.
  • Your symptoms, such as shortness of breath, vomiting, or diarrhea, get worse.
  • Your symptoms, such as fever and coughing, seem to get better, but then get worse.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have new muscle pain or weakness.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.