Symptoms of the flu may vary depending on what type of flu you have (there are several different types), but flu symptoms generally include fever, chills, body aches, headache, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue. Rarely, flu symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but the flu is primarily a respiratory illness. If you have an upset stomach, you probably have a stomach virus, not the flu.
Symptoms of the flu are similar to the symptoms of a cold, but high fevers are unusual with a cold, while they are common with the flu. Symptoms often come on very suddenly with the flu, as well, while you may become ill more gradually with a cold. The flu is a more serious illness than a cold. Symptoms are usually more severe, and secondary complications like pneumonia can result from the flu.
If you have symptoms of the flu, you should stay home if possible so you don't spread your germs around. The flu is very contagious. If you have the flu, make sure you cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
If possible, avoid people with flu symptoms so you don't catch the flu from them. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water to keep the germs away.
Many people opt to get a flu vaccine every year. You have to get vaccinated every year because the flu virus mutates. Last year's vaccine won't protect you this year. Some people worry about getting the flu from the flu shot, but that really is not possible because the vaccine is not made from live flu virus. The flu vaccine is safe and effective, but it may cause some side effects in some people. Common side effects are mild flu-like symptoms, like body aches and a low-grade fever. Some people can have a serious reaction to the flu shot, but this is rare.
Most people with the flu don't actually need any medical treatment. The virus will usually run its course without intervention. However, there are antiviral medications that can help speed the recovery process. They work by preventing the virus from replicating itself. These medications are available by prescription only. See your doctor if you want a prescription.
Symptoms of the flu can usually be managed with over-the-counter medications. There are a number of over-the-counter flu remedies and it can be confusing to choose among them, so talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about which to take. Over-the-counter medications don't cure the flu, they just relieve uncomfortable flu symptoms.
While you are sick with the flu, you should get as much rest as possible and drink lots of fluids. Flu symptoms usually go away in about a week. If your symptoms last longer than that, you should call your doctor.
See your doctor in the fall if you want a flu shot. If you get the flu, you will probably recover without medical treatment, but in rare cases the flu can be very serious, even deadly, so see your doctor if you have any concerns. If you have a very high fever, if your symptoms are very severe, if symptoms last longer than one week, if you have trouble breathing, or if you have pre-existing conditions, you should see a doctor.
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