What is the Flu?

Infection of the nose and throat caused by influenza (flu) viruses is called the "Flu." The viruses are most common during fall and winter. Flu usually causes mild symptoms like cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, fever but can lead to serious illness at times.

Flu vs. Common Cold

Flu symptoms usually start suddenly and are severe than common cold. People with cold are less likely to develop fever or muscle aches and commonly have runny nose. Common cold generally does not lead to serious health problems. It is usually not possible to differentiate flu from common cold unless further testing is done.

Flu Testing

The flu tests are done with nasal swab test. The commonly used test is “Rapid Flu test”, which provide results in about 30 minutes. Sometimes the test can be negative despite having active influenza infection. Diagnosis can still be made based on your physical exam and symptoms.

Flu Spreads from One Person to Another

Flu is very contagious – means it easily spreads from one person to other. Flu spread by droplets created by coughing and sneezing. You can spread the flu starting one day before flu symptoms start and up to 7 days after recovery.  Covering sneezes/coughs and frequent hand washing are simple yet very effective methods to prevent the spread of flu.

Complications of Flu

Most people recover from flu in few days to less than 2 weeks. Flu can make common health problems like asthma worse. High-risk people can develop serious complications like severe ear infection, pneumonia, sepsis (infection spreads to the blood), inflammation of the heart or even death.

High Risk for Developing Flu Complications

Flu can cause serious complications in certain high risk patients. These include children, pregnant women, elderly (age more than 65 years), people with medical conditions like congestive heart failure, COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, liver or kidney problems, cancer, AIDS.

Flu Treatment

The treatment of flu includes plenty of rest and fluids. You might have to take over the counter medications for fever and cold. There are prescription medications called antiviral drugs available to treat flu. These medications work best when started in first few days of symptom onset.  These medications can shorten the duration and also decrease the severity of symptoms.

Flu Prevention

Flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu infection. Get your flu shot every year as recommend by CDC. References:

  1. www.cdc.gov
  2. Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)

Reviewed by:  Dr. Shilpa Singh Chicago, IL, USA

Infectious Disease


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