There is not one, definitive answer for how long the flu lasts but many people say that they are sick for one to two weeks with it. There are many factors that go into how long an ailment may affect a person, and the flu is no different. There are many different strains of the flu and some are more serious than others. A person’s age and overall health prior to getting the flu are also big determining factors for how long the flu lasts.
The flu, short for influenza, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C viruses. Historically, the flu appears most frequently in winter and early spring but in the more recent decades, outbreaks have been happening at all times of the year. The flu virus makes people sick when it attacks the body by spreading through the upper and lower respiratory tract.
A Cold Compared to the Flu
A “cold” and the flu are both contagious viral infections of the respiratory system and have similar symptoms but the flu tends to have more severe symptoms. People are often sick longer with the flu compared to a cold. Some flus are so serious that people wind up in the hospital and/or it can take weeks, even months before people feel like they are fully recovered.
Congestion, sore throat, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, chest discomfort, head, fatigue, and head and body aches are common symptoms of both colds and flus. With the flu though, these symptoms tend to be more severe and often come with a fever and extreme weakness. Most complications from colds are usually mild enough to not cause too much cause for alarm but complications from the flu can lead to extremely dangerous, even life-threatening illnesses and infections.
Medication and Prevention
There are more than 100 types of known cold viruses and there are more than 100 strains of the flu virus with new ones evolving each year. Antibiotics cannot cure the flu or a cold because they only help with bacterial infections. Currently, the FDA has approved four antiviral drugs that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends. Both, antibiotics and antiviral medications are not sold over the counter and need a prescription from an authorized healthcare provider such as a doctor or nurse practitioner.
It is recommended that people who are infected with the flu or are suspected of being infected with it, and who are high risk of serious flu complications, such as people with asthma, diabetes or heart disease, neurologic and neurodevelopment, kidney disorders, liver disorders, etc., get prompt treatment with antiviral medications. If you have the flu or suspect you have it, it is recommended that you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
While antiviral medication is an option once you have the flu, it is not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. Because there are continually evolving flu virus strains, the flu vaccine varies in how well it works but it is still the recommended way to help prevent seasonal flu and its potentially serious complications.
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