How long does the flu last?
Have you ever had the flu? The influenza virus which is commonly known of as the “flu” infects millions of people each year and although the winter months are mainly thought of as “flu season” a person can be infected with the flu at any time during the year. Horror stories abound surrounding the previous Swine Flu epidemic this nation had. Even so there are many misconceptions about the flu itself.
How long does the flu last? This is one of the misconceptions I seek to correct here. The short answer is that it depends on you and your immune system. The elderly and very small children tend to suffer from the flu longer than most healthy adults as do people with immune insufficiency diseases or conditions. This also pertains to just about any illness known to man.
To answer to “how long does the flu last?” I offer this information. First, there is a period of incubation from the time you are exposed to the flu virus to the time you start suffering the signs and symptoms and that period is approximately 1-5 days. The flu virus definitely works fast!! During this period, a person is contagious from about the day before they started becoming ill to approximately five days after that.
The worst and most common symptoms tend to last from anywhere from three to ten days in most healthy adults. How long does the flu last in individuals with weakened immune systems? In these individuals the most severe symptoms can last for more than a week. In some cases the flu can be “shortened” by the use of prescription antiviral medications such as Tamiflu. Please note that antibiotics have no effect on the symptoms of the flu except when it pertains to any secondary infections that may occur. This is because the flu is a virus and not a bacteria and antibiotics only affect bacterial infections.
One major key to preventing the spread of the flu is frequent handwashing. The flu is an upper respiratory virus and mainly spreads through droplets in the air that are coughed out into the air and either breathed in by the next victim or the droplets touched on objects where they landed and then get into the new hosts body in that manner which is why frequent handwashing works to help prevent it.
The primary, which are also some of the worst symptoms include: high fever, extreme fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, runny nose, sore throat and dry cough. Also the flu may bring abdominal pain and vomiting and/or diarhhea. When a person asks “how long does the flu last?” this is commonly a question related to how long these most serious symptoms last. Most otherwise healthy individuals actually have the flu virus infection for approximately one to two weeks but the main symptoms described above last from 3-10 days and most of the symptoms will begin to subside in about one week. Muscle fatigue and generalized weakness may last the entire length of the influenza infection or about one to three weeks.
The other extremely important intervention in preventing the flu is to get the flu vaccine annually. Be aware that as the flu virus “disguises itself” or mutates into various strains that you may still get the flu even after having been vaccinated. The elderly and very young children as well as people with respiratory diseases and otherwise compromised immune systems should also be sure to be vaccinated every year. This measure may also strengthen an immune system to the point that if you should be exposed to a different strain of the flu than the ones you were immunized for that the length of your illness may be shortened or the severity lessened although this is not a guarantee.
If you do manage to contract the flu, the best treatments are rest and fluids and maybe antiviral medications. Prevention is the key however, so please be sure to get your annual flu vaccine so that you can have a flu-free season.