The viral respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus can make you very sick, which is why the CDC recommends that everyone get a flu shot by the end of October.
The flu is contagious, transmitted from person to person, and can leave you feeling lousy for quite a while. This year, flu season is overlapping with the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot. Here’s an overview of the stages of the flu, and how long the flu lasts.
How do you catch the flu?
The flu, like COVID-19, is primarily spread by someone coughing or sneezing near another person without covering their mouth. Fine droplets of saliva are sprayed out and land on other people. When one of those droplets lands near the eye, or in someone else’s mouth or nose, the flu virus has easy access to the new person.
Another way that the virus can transfer from one person to another is if a sick person touches something and then a healthy person touches the same item later. The flu virus may survive for up to 48 hours on a hard surface, according to the CDC.
This year, by following the public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you will also help protect yourself from the flu. By maintaining social distance, washing your hands frequently, avoiding others if you have symptoms, and wearing a face mask, you can help to prevent catching or spreading the flu.
How long will I be sick with the flu?
In most cases, the most aggravating symptoms of the flu will go away on their own, in about two to three days. Full flu recovery time takes about one or two weeks, for all the lingering symptoms to go away.
If you are experiencing symptoms of the flu such as fever, body aches, chills, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, diarrhea, nausea, and/or vomiting, contact your health care provider immediately. You may be directed to a COVID-19 testing station. Or, you may be prescribed an antiviral medication such as generic Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) or Xofluza, which you will need to begin taking within 48 hours of developing symptoms.
The RxSaver price for oseltamivir phosphate at major retail pharmacies starts at $29.49
The RxSaver price for Xofluza at major retail pharmacies starts at $161.35
The total flu recovery time depends primarily on how healthy you are before you get sick and if you’re a member of a high-risk group. From the time that you begin to show symptoms, you may only feel extremely sick for 48 to 72 hours. After that, the full flu recovery time can last for up to two weeks before you feel like yourself again.
What are the stages of the flu?
Flu symptoms generally come on very suddenly, and people frequently go to bed feeling healthy and wake up sick. However, you may have been infected with the virus several days before the onset of symptoms. The first symptoms of the flu often include a headache, fever/chills, sore throat, body aches, and a cough.
As the flu progresses, you’ll likely experience continued flushed skin, develop a cough that produces phlegm, and you may develop gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. It is likely you’ll also have bloodshot or watery eyes along with a stuffy nose.
These severe symptoms will generally last a few days before you transition into the recovery stage. However, lingering symptoms such as fatigue may last for weeks.
How long is the flu contagious?
You may be contagious a day before you start showing symptoms of the flu. That means you can spread the flu before you even know you have it. You are likely to be most contagious within the first 3-4 days after getting sick.
After you start showing symptoms, you can remain a carrier for up to a week afterward. That’s why it’s important to stay home if you have the flu. Flu recovery time may be long, but you must realize how long you can spread it to others. Keep in mind, children and those who have weakened immune systems may pass on the flu to others for longer than a week.
How long does immunity from the flu last?
Getting the flu shot prevents millions of hospitalizations each year, however, it is unknown if or how long the vaccine or a previous infection will provide immunity. According to the CDC, protection from the flu shot varies, depending upon your overall health and age, and how well the seasonal vaccine is matched with the type of flu virus that circulates that year.
How can I keep from getting the flu?
The best way to prevent the flu is to get your annual flu shot. Getting the flu shot early in the flu season maximizes your protection against the flu virus. Keep in mind that the flu shot takes two weeks for it to become fully effective and it is not a 100 percent guarantee that you will not catch the flu. However, by getting your annual flu shot, and abiding by the same public health guidelines put forth to prevent COVID-19, you can reduce your chances for getting the flu.
Oseltamivir Phosphate: 75 mg / 10 capsules Xofluza: 40 mg / 2 tablets
*Lowest online price at national pharmacy chains Costco, CVS, RiteAid, Walgreens and Walmart as of 9/30/2020. Prices vary by location and pharmacy, see RxSaver.com for actual pricing in your area.
Jen Hadley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, who writes extensively about the medical, legal, health care, and consumer products industries. Jen is a regular contributor to RxSaver.
Carmel Fitzgerald, NP
Carmel Fitzgerald, NP, is a seasoned adult health nurse practitioner in Boston, MA with over 30 years of experience. Most recently, she was recruited to serve as the coordinator for the new Boston Medical Center Lung Cancer Screening Program. Carmel is a contributing author to numerous medical research publications. She is a member of the Massachusetts Coalition of Nurse Practitioners, the American Heart Association and the Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence. She completed her BSN at the University of Massachusetts and MSN at Northeastern University both with honors.
The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.
If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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