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How Long Does the Flu Last?

Story at-a-glance

  • Influenza, aka flu, affects 5 to 20 percent of the American population yearly during the fall and winter. This translates to about $10.4 billion in medical expenses annually
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza viruses A, B and C can cause flu infection in humans
  • You may start feeling sick one to four days after exposure to the virus. The illness may last for as long as five to seven days before recovery begins. Milder symptoms, such as fatigue and colds, may persist for a few days, usually less than two weeks

Together with the cold weather, fall and winter also beckon flu season, with many people coughing and sneezing wherever you turn. Flu or influenza affects 5 to 20 percent of the American population every year, which translates to roughly $10.4 billion in medical expenses annually.1 Aside from the monetary costs, influenza season also means missed school days and workdays.

If you’re currently battling flu, you may wonder how long this usually lasts and what you can do to recover faster. This article will answer common concerns regarding this illness, plus provide other helpful facts and tips to get you through flu season.

8 Common Symptoms of Flu

Flu symptoms usually appear one to four days after your exposure to the virus. You’ll probably first start running a fever, which may sometimes be accompanied by chills. The symptoms typically get worse a in few days or even within hours. If you’re starting to feel sick and you’re quite sure you’ve been exposed to flu, here are symptoms to look out for:2,3,4

  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Aching muscles
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Appetite loss
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Fever (although not everyone may experience this)

In rare cases, flu may make you more susceptible to complications, including viral or bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and sinus infections. People who may suffer from them are usually children, adults over 65 years of age, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women.5

If you experience shortness of breath, severe earache, bloody phlegm, or you start coughing up yellow, green or brown sputum, talk to a health professional. This will ensure you’re not suffering from another condition or complication brought on by your weakened state. Early treatment of these complications will help reduce the risk for serious repercussions.6

What Causes Flu?

Flu is caused by an influenza virus infection. There are four types of influenza viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): A, B, C and D. Types A and B are mostly responsible for seasonal flu outbreaks, while Type C triggers illness on a minor scale. The Type D virus doesn’t cause infections in people, because it mainly affects cows.

There are different Type A influenza viruses, and they’re classified according to the protein found on their surface — either hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). Out of the many Type A flu viruses, A (H1N1) and A (H3N2) are the most common viruses that affect people. In particular, the A (H1N1) outbreak of 2009 occurred because of a newer strain of this said virus that replaced the “older” H1N1 virus already circulating in humans.7

The virus is transmitted when air droplets from a sick person are inhaled by an uninfected person. They are usually expelled when the infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus may also be spread through direct physical contact, such as kissing, or by sharing personal items like handkerchiefs.8

How Long Does Flu Normally Last?

After you’re exposed to the virus, you may start feeling sick one to four days later, with symptoms persisting for at least five to seven days before you start feeling better.9 Milder indicators, such as discomfort and colds, may persist for a few days or more, for less than two weeks.10 In some cases, the infection may last for a longer period, especially among children and immunocompromised people.11

Influenza fever in both adults and children generally lasts around three to four days. If a fever doesn’t go down after the fourth day or it reaches a temperature above 103 degrees F, consult a doctor immediately.12

How Can You Treat Influenza?

The most common flu treatments people are familiar with are antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu. However, research has shown that not only can Tamiflu cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea,13 it may also lead to major neuropsychiatric problems.14 There are reports of hallucinations,15 depression, mood swings, suicidal tendencies,16 insomnia17 and behavioral changes18 after taking this drug.

This drug is also nowhere near as effective as it claims to be. Results of a 2014 BMJ study revealed that Tamiflu may only reduce flu symptom duration by less than 17 hours, and doesn’t significantly lower your risk for complications like pneumonia or decrease viral transmission.19

If you’re suffering from the flu or caring for a sick loved one, there are numerous ways that you can expedite recovery without resorting to side effect-causing drugs. Here are a few tips you can follow to start the healing process:

  • Get lots of rest — The most important thing you can do is rest. Your body is fighting a viral infection, which explains your weakened state. Avoid exerting too much effort on physical activity as it may cause negative effects on your immune system. While exercising might seem like a good idea to “sweat out” the flu, it may prolong symptoms, cause dehydration and impede your recovery.20
  • Drink plenty of liquids — Keeping yourself hydrated may help speed up recovery,21 prompt rehydration and enable harmful viruses to be released from the body.22
  • Get a steam bath — When you have a flu, you may be suffering from a stuffy nose. Entering a steam room may help loosen up mucus blocking your nose, and help you breathe easier and relieve headaches caused by blocked nasal canals. Steam baths can also help relieve some of the body ache you’re suffering from.23
  • Consider using salt water — Dealing with a clogged nose makes everything harder when you have flu. If you’re having difficulty breathing because of a stuffy nose, consider salt water rinsing to break up the mucus. You can also gargle salt water to soothe a sore throat.24
  • Support your immune system — You can promote recovery by boosting your immune system with natural remedies. Some examples are colloidal silver,25 oregano oil (because of a compound called thymol26) and garlic.27

Do You Really Need That Flu Shot?

Because of the annual resurfacing of influenza outbreaks, flu shot vaccinations have been widely advertised as the best way to prevent the disease. Vaccine companies and health organizations actively promote administration of vaccines, with Americans being recommended to undergo a number of vaccinations (depending on age group)28 at a very different rate compared to other countries.29,30

However, contrary to what vaccine marketers say, the flu shot comes with potential side effects, especially in people who may be allergic to some of its ingredients.31 There is also a chance that the vaccine won’t even be effective, which is what happens when the strain causing the influenza outbreak doesn’t match the strain used in the vaccines, making them virtually useless.32

In past years, the effectiveness of flu shots has appeared to be diminishing, in a good year protecting only about 50 to 60 percent of those who get vaccinated, but in other years giving an abysmal 36 percent active effectiveness overall.33 In addition to the diminished protection, they may predispose you to more severe infections.34,35,36,37,38 As an alternative, here are better and safer ways to strengthen your immunity:

  • Optimize your vitamin D levels — Multiple studies have revealed that optimizing your vitamin D levels may help promote better immune system function and lower your influenza risk.39,40,41,42,43 The best way to raise your levels of vitamin D is through sensible sun exposure, but if you live in an area where sunlight isn’t abundant, you may take vitamin D3 supplements, along with magnesium and vitamin K2.
  • Avoid sugar and processed foods — Excessive sugar intake can negatively affect your immune function. Ridding your diet of all the unnecessary sugars and switching to healthier food choices may improve your immunity.44
  • Exercise — Regular exercise helps improve circulation and blood flow throughout the body,45 improving your immunity by promoting the rapid spread of immune cells, and making them more effective in fighting bacteria and viruses.46
  • Wash your hands — A common mode of transmission for the influenza virus is through physical contact. Washing your hands regularly may help you avoid spreading or acquiring the virus through touch.47

You Can Deal With Influenza Easily and Naturally

The frequency and widespread incidence of flu each year has ensured its position as one of the illnesses people should watch out for. Unfortunately, health and vaccine companies have taken advantage of the situation, causing fear and panic among people, and promoting so-called “treatments” that may do more harm than good.

Just remember that flu prevention and treatment largely depends on boosting your immunity and overall health, and not on vaccines or pharmaceutical solutions. Making sure you provide yourself enough rest, vitamins and nutrients to support your immune system is crucial in allowing the body to battle the influenza virus.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Flu

Q: What should you do when you have flu?

A: There are numerous strategies you can try to promote recovery, but the best thing to do is to rest. Your body is battling a viral infection, so give it enough time to recover.48 You can support your immune system by taking immune boosters like colloidal silver,49 oregano oil50 and garlic.51

Q: How contagious is flu?

A: Influenza is highly contagious, with people being able to spread the virus even before flu symptoms start showing. Sick people are at their most contagious during the first day of illness, and up to three to seven days after infection.52

Q: How does flu spread?

A: Flu spreads through airborne viruses, usually carried by air droplets that uninfected people may inhale. It can also spread from person to person through direct physical contact or handling objects a sick person has touched.53

Q: How do you relieve flu symptoms?

A: You can relieve flu symptoms by trying nose rinsing54 or drinking lots of fluids55,56 such as high-quality filtered water. In addition, you have to get enough rest to give yourself some time to recover from your illness.57

Q: Is it good to sweat when you have flu?

A: Sweating has been found to help detoxify the body58,59,60,61 regulate body temperature,62 and kill viruses63,64 and bacteria.65 Although releasing sweat may be helpful if you have flu, make sure you replace the fluids you lose to prevent dehydration.

Sources and References

  • 1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 12, 2018
  • 2 Mayo Clinic, September 20, 2018
  • 3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 18, 2018
  • 4 NHS, December 12, 2017
  • 5 WebMD, January 25, 2017
  • 6 Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, October 2009
  • 7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 27, 2017
  • 8, 53 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 27, 2018
  • 9 Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, January 16, 2018
  • 10 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 26, 2016
  • 12 WebMD, May 17, 2017
  • 13 RxList, April 17, 2018
  • 14 BMJ. 2007 Jun 16; 334(7606): 1232–1233
  • 15 Newsweek, January 15, 2018
  • 16 Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2015 Aug; 13(2): 209–211. Published online 2015 Aug 31
  • 17 Euro Surveill. 2009;14(30):pii=19287
  • 18 Hum Exp Toxicol. 2008 Dec; 27(12): 911–917
  • 19 BMJ 2014;348:g2545
  • 20, 48, 57 WebMD, January 26, 2017
  • 21, 24, 54, 55 WebMD, November 11, 2018
  • 22, 56 "Everything You Need to Know About Colds and Flu," 2000
  • 24 CNN, October 6, 2015
  • 25, 49 Journal of Nanomaterials, Vol. 2016, Article ID 4176212, 8 pages, 2016
  • 26, 50 Food Chemistry, Volume 210, 2016, Pages 402-414
  • 27, 51 Clin Nutr. 2012 Jun;31(3):337-44
  • 28 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 1, 2018
  • 29 CMAJ. 2011 Nov 8; 183(16): e1167–e1168
  • 30 CNN, January 2, 2018
  • 31 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 30, 2017
  • 32 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 20, 2018
  • 33 CDC.gov MMWR February 16, 2018; 67(6): 180-185
  • 34 Clin Infect Dis. 2010 Nov 1;51(9):1017-27
  • 35 Clin Infect Dis. 2012 Jun 15; 54(12): 1778–1783. Published online 2012 Mar 15
  • 36 J Virol. 2011 Nov; 85(22): 11995–12000
  • 37 PLoS One. 2014; 9(1): e86555. Published online 2014 Jan 27
  • 38 ABC News, March 4, 2011
  • 39 Epidemiol Infect. 2006 Dec; 134(6): 1129–1140. Published online 2006 Sep 7
  • 40 Virology Journal, 2008, 5:29
  • 41 Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(4):384–390
  • 42 BMJ 2017;356:i6583
  • 43 NPR, February 16, 2017
  • 44 WebMD, June 14, 2017
  • 45 “The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine,” November 27, 2012
  • 46 “Influenza and Bird Flu: Examining the Flu,” July 1, 2014
  • 47 WebMD, September 16, 2018
  • 52 WebMD, October 29, 2017
  • 58 Journal of Biological Chemistry, 1932
  • 59 BBC, August 4, 2015
  • 60 J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 184745. Published online 2012 Feb 22
  • 61 Arch Environ Contam Toxicol (2011) 61: 344
  • 62 Rush University Medical Center, “How the Body Regulates Heat”
  • 63 “Viral Immunity: A 10-Step Plan to Enhance Your Immunity Against Viral Disease Using Natural Medicines,” August 1, 2002
  • 64 “Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone,” 1998
  • 65 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar 2013, 110 (12) 4586-4591
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