The Flu Explained
The flu is a viral infection that can infect your nose, throat, and lungs.1 It’s contagious and can easily spread from person to person. In most cases, the flu isn’t a reason for serious concern. That being said, it’s important to be careful and take preventive measures to protect yourself from the virus—especially during cold and flu season. Start by getting the flu vaccine to help reduce your risk of catching the flu.2 Another easy move: wash your hands often. Using soap and hot water is a simple, affordable way to prevent the spreading of the flu virus.
What Are Some Common Flu Symptoms?
Even if you’ve had the flu before, it’s not always easy to identify flu symptoms. Flu and cold can present themselves in similar ways. With both cold and flu, you may experience cough, stuffy nose, and sore throat.3 However, cold symptoms are usually milder than flu symptoms and come with a more gradual onset.3 In addition, fever usually accompanies the flu virus, while fever is rare with colds.3
Here are some other symptoms of the flu:
- Sore throat
- Nasal or sinus congestion
- Muscle Body aches
Flu Recovery Timeline
In general, flu symptoms appear from one to four days after virus exposure and last around five to seven days.5 Symptom duration may vary depending on the person. Here is a general overview to the stages of flu recovery:6
- Day 0: The virus is contracted. No symptoms have exhibited themselves yet. You may or may not be contagious at this point.
- Days 1-4: Flu symptoms begin to show. As mentioned above, the onset of these flu symptoms is less gradual than that of a cold. Be on the lookout for fever, fatigue, chills, and other symptoms of flu. You are most contagious at this point in the timeline.7
- Days 5-7: Flu symptoms begin to decrease. Although you’re feeling better, you may still experience tiredness.
- Day 8 and Beyond: Symptoms are gone or continuing to improve. You may still continue to feel fatigued for a few weeks after.
Keep in mind that this flu recovery timeline is only a rough guide to flu symptoms. Every person will experience symptoms differently. However, if you’re noticing strong, persistent flu symptoms that last beyond a week, you should consult your doctor for medical advice.
Flu Recovery Tips
Recovery can feel as if it’s taking a long time, but try to be patient. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you through the various stages of flu recovery:
- Stay hydrated.
- Get sufficient rest.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Wash your hands often.
- Use a humidifier.
- Take a steamy shower.
- Elevate your head at night to help you rest.
- Take an OTC medication to help with symptoms.
- Stay home until you’re better.8
Now that you’re familiar with the different stages of the flu recovery, you can feel confident about taking the steps you need to support your recovery. Remember that prevention is the most effective tool to fight the flu—get your flu shot to reduce your risk of catching the flu in the first place.
Get well soon!
1. Influenza (flu) - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/symptoms-causes/syc-20351719
2. Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work? CDC.
3. Cold Versus Flu. CDC.
4. Flu Symptoms & Complications. CDC.
5. How long does the flu last? Harvard Health.
6. Flu (influenza). Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/flu-influenza
7. How Flu Spreads. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm
8. Influenza (flu) – Diagnosis & treatment. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351725