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Flu symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

By: Michelle Tutt, MSN-FNP-C, BSN, RN
Fri, Nov. 8, 2021

Influenza, also known as the flu is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by the influenza virus. The symptoms can range from mild to severe.

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.

COLD VS FLU SYMPTOMS

Signs and Symptoms
Cold
Influenza (Flu)
Symptom onset
Gradual
Abrupt
Fever
Rare
Common; lasts 3-4 days
Aches
Slight
Common; often severe
Chills
Uncommon
Fairly common
Fatigue, weakness
Sometimes
Usual
Sneezing
Common
Sometimes
Chest discomfort, cough
Mild to moderate; hacking cough
Common; can be severe
Stuffy nose
Common
Sometimes
Sore throat
Common
Sometimes
Headache
Rare
Common

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE THE FLU?

It is impossible to tell for sure if you have flu based on symptoms alone. If your doctor needs to know for sure whether you are sick with flu, there are laboratory tests that can be done.

A number of tests are available to detect flu viruses in respiratory specimens. The most common are called “rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs).” RIDTs work by detecting the parts of the virus (antigens) that stimulate an immune response. These tests can provide results within approximately 10-15 minutes

FLU TREATMENT

If you get sick with flu, antiviral drugs may be a treatment option.

Check with your doctor promptly if you are at higher risk of serious flu complications and you get flu symptoms. People at higher risk of flu complications include young children, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant people, and people with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For people at higher risk of serious flu complications, treatment with antiviral drugs can mean the difference between milder or more serious illness possibly resulting in a hospital stay. CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have flu or suspected flu and who are at higher risk of serious flu complications.

Flu Season Ahead Sign