• Colleen Breuning

Flu - Or Not the Flu?

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

So you think you have the flu?

First know:

It is very common and there are more than 3 million US cases every year

It spreads easily

It is partly preventable by vaccine

Usually self-treatable

Usually self-diagnosable

Lab tests or imaging rarely required

Short-term: resolves within days to weeks

How it spreads:

By airborne respiratory droplets (coughs or sneezes).

By skin-to-skin contact (handshakes or hugs).

By saliva (kissing or shared drinks).

By touching a contaminated surface (blanket or doorknob).


The flu attacks the lungs, nose, and throat. Young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with chronic disease, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or weak immune systems are at high risk.

Flu signs and symptoms usually come on suddenly. People who are sick with flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

- Fever or feeling feverish/chills *

- Cough

- Sore throat

- Runny or stuffy nose

- Muscle or body aches

- Headaches

- Fatigue (tiredness)

- Some people may have vomiting and

diarrhea, though this is more common in

children than adults.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

What should I do if I get sick?

Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.

If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider (doctor, physician assistant, etc.).

Certain people are at high risk of serious flu-related complications (including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions). This is true both for seasonal flu and novel flu virus infections. (For a full list of people at high risk of flu-related complications, see People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications).

If you are in a high risk group and develop flu symptoms, it’s best for you to contact your doctor early in your illness. Remind them about your high risk status for flu. CDC recommends that people at high risk for complications should get antiviral treatment as early as possible, because benefit is greatest if treatment is started within 2 days after illness onset.

Do I need to go to the emergency room if I am only a little sick?

No. The emergency room should be used for people who are very sick. You should not go to the emergency room if you are only mildly ill. If you go to the emergency room and you are not sick with the flu, you may catch it from people who do have it.

When should I go to the emergency room?

If you have the emergency warning signs of flu sickness, you should go to the emergency room. People experiencing these warning signs should obtain medical care right away.

In children

· Fast breathing or trouble breathing

· Bluish lips or face

· Ribs pulling in with each breath

· Chest pain

· Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)

· Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)

· Not alert or interacting when awake

· Seizures

· Fever above 104°F

· In children less than 12 weeks, any fever

· Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen

· Worsening of chronic medical conditions

In adults

· Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

· Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

· Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse

· Seizures

· Not urinating

· Severe muscle pain

· Severe weakness or unsteadiness

· Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen

· Worsening of chronic medical conditions

These lists are not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.

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