Seasonal Flu: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

The seasonal flu is a respiratory infection of the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs, caused by a virus. It’s commonly spread by talking, sneezing, and coughing. While most flu cases only cause mild to moderate symptoms, older people, young children, and those with other health concerns are at a higher risk of experiencing severe flu symptoms — and even needing to be hospitalized. You can help keep yourself healthy with everyday habits like washing your hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and by getting your annual flu vaccine (either an injection or a nasal spray) from your doctor’s office, local pharmacy, or walk-in clinic.

Cold and flu season begins every fall and lasts through end of winter, peaking between December and February. Most people experience cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, fever, and fatigue for about seven days after symptoms first begin.

Flu season’s back

Time to get your flu shot. It’s the best way to protect yourself.

Seasonal flu symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment

Because the virus spreads every fall and winter, it’s important to determine if you have the flu, know what to do to recover, and recognize when to seek medical care.

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best thing to do if you don’t feel well is to stay home and rest. To prevent spreading germs, avoid being in close contact with others, wash your hands often, and clean anything you touch. Most people with the flu will only experience mild symptoms and may not need medical care. But those who are pregnant, 65 or older or under 5, or living with a chronic health issue should call their doctor. Plus, you should call your doctor if you feel worse than you think you should or if you’re worried about how sick you are.

How long does the flu last?

Most people usually start to feel better within a week. If you get the flu after you’ve had the flu vaccine, you may start to feel better faster.

Is there a test to diagnose the seasonal flu?

Yes, there are several types of tests that can help diagnose the flu. Two types of tests, the rapid influenza test and the rapid molecular assay, provide results in 15-25 minutes. The rapid molecular assay is generally more accurate than the rapid influenza test. Your doctor may not need to use a flu test to diagnose you, instead relying on clinical expertise to diagnose you after an exam.

How do I know if I have the seasonal flu, a common cold, or COVID-19?

The flu, common cold, and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, but they have very similar symptoms. While flu symptoms usually come on much more suddenly than common cold symptoms, the only way to be sure is to see your doctor and get tested.

Can I have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Since the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, the CDC says it’s possible — although very uncommon — to have both at the same time. This is called a coinfection. Even though it’s rare, people with a coinfection are at a higher risk of developing more serious symptoms that can land them in the hospital.

Will any treatments help me get better?

While the best course of treatment for most people is to stay home and rest, if you are at a higher risk to develop more severe symptoms (like those who are pregnant, 65 or older, or living with a chronic health issue), your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine to help reduce the length and severity of your illness. These treatments are more effective earlier on in the illness, so it’s important to talk with your doctor as soon as you start feeling ill.

How will I know that I’m getting better?

If you have a fever or body aches, you should start to feel relief from those symptoms around day 4 or 5. Other symptoms should improve in the following days.

Can I get even sicker while I have the flu?

Yes. It’s possible to develop severe symptoms, even if you think you’re in good health otherwise. Head to the hospital or seek medical attention if you have trouble breathing, a high fever, can’t stop vomiting, or become confused.

How will I know if I need to go to the hospital?

Head to the hospital or seek medical attention if you have trouble breathing, a high fever, can’t stop vomiting, or become confused.

Can I get the flu more than once during the same flu season?

Yes. Because there are several different variants of the flu, you can get the flu more than once in the same season.

Think you might have the flu?

Book an appointment with your AHN doctor. Call the office directly, or call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 and we’ll help you set it up. Or use AHN MyChart to make the appointment online.

Ways to prevent seasonal flu

It may seem unavoidable, but there are lots of ways you can help protect yourself from getting the flu and spreading it to others around you.

What can I do to avoid getting the flu?

You can take everyday actions to help stay healthy, but the most important thing you can do is get the flu vaccine from your doctor or a local pharmacy.

flu shot syringe

Get your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine