How Long Does the Flu Last?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
January 11, 2018

How long does the flu last? Five to seven days, usually, but not for everyone. The flu shot may not prevent the flu, but it can make the virus shorter or less severe.

Aches and pains, chills, fever, cough, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and sore throat are all possible symptoms of a flu virus.

How long does the flu last?

The usual course runs like this: symptoms appear from one to four days after exposure, and last five to seven days. Many people feel tired for a while even after the worst is over. In some people the flu itself lasts longer.


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If you get a flu but had the flu shot, the symptoms may go away more quickly or be less dramatic.

You get the flu from airborne saliva when someone sneezes or coughs, or if you kiss or share eating utensils. An infected adult is contagious about a day before symptoms start and may continue to be contagious for five to seven days, children a bit longer.

The flu season in the United States begins in October and November. The peak hits between December and February, but the virus may still be active in May. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in your body and protect you. It’s best to try to get your shot by the end of October, but it’s still worth doing in February. Flus often come in two waves, with a different kind of virus in each wave. So a shot even in January can protect you from the second wave.

If you do develop symptoms, your best move is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. You can take over-the-counter fever reducers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).

Small children, the elderly, pregnant women, and the very obese (with a BMI of 40 and up) and anyone with a chronic illness such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes are at risk for a lingering case or other complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or a sinus or ear infection. People with asthma may have an attack. People with chronic congestive heart failure may also experience heart complications triggered by flu.

If you are having symptoms, it’s especially important to stay away from people in those high-risk groups.

Is it the flu or a cold? A cold rarely causes a fever above 101 degrees, and you’re less likely to have muscle aches. Either way, it’s important to stay away from the most vulnerable people.

If you are in a risk group, you can try oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza). Some doctors are prescribing drugs that the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t recognize: amantadine (Summetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine).

How to avoid the flu

  1. Get the flu shot every year.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water before eating or touching your face.
  3. Quit smoking.
  4. Consider medication.


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October 01, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN