How Long Is the Flu Contagious? Here’s What You Should Know

A sick woman lying on the sofa covered in a blanket and blowing her nose near a table with a cup of water and medicine on it.

Nearly 8% of the U.S. population comes down with the flu each year, especially during the colder months, although it can be contracted throughout the entire year.

According to the CDC, even with the widespread availability and recommendation to get a flu vaccine, an estimated 9 million to 41 million people are diagnosed yearly.

The flu vaccine is the most optimal deterrent against contracting the flu or experiencing severe symptoms upon diagnosis; it does not guarantee complete immunity from the virus.

If you or a loved one is experiencing flu symptoms, it is essential to understand how long the flu is contagious to reduce the risk of spreading it to others.

Let’s dive deeper into understanding the flu, including how long it’s contagious.

What Is the Flu?

More formally referred to as influenza, the flu is a contagious respiratory virus. It can infect a person’s nose, throat, and lungs and be caused by the influenza A or B viruses.

The flu spreads from one person to another by tiny droplets in the air from coughing, talking, or sneezing. 

According to the CDC, the flu can last a few days to less than 2 weeks, depending on the overall health of the infected person. 

Flu Symptoms

There is a wide range of flu symptoms that people may experience.

Symptom onset averages around 2 days but can range from 1 to 4 days.

Flu symptoms can range from mild to severe. In rarer cases, the flu can lead to death, especially for immunocompromised people.

The most notable flu symptoms include

  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • muscle aches
  • loss of appetite
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • stuffy nose
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

How Long Is the Flu Contagious?

According to the CDC, the flu can be detected 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. During the entirety of this period, the flu is considered contagious.

With that being said, the flu is most contagious during the first 3 to 4 days after symptoms begin. 

In high-risk groups such as infants and those considered immunocompromised, the ability to pass the flu virus to others may extend past 7 days. 

If you believe you have the flu, the best way to slow the spread is through rapid testing and isolation from others until symptoms subside. 

Effective Flu Treatment

There is not one specific method to cure the flu.

Most people with the flu recover on their own, using symptom control methods that may include

  • OTC pain relievers 
  • hydration
  • adequate rest
  • fever reducers 
  • OTC anti-inflammatories and decongestants
  • throat lozenges or spray
  • OTC saline nasal drops or spray 
  • a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier

In more severe cases, an antiviral medication may be prescribed.

You should seek immediate emergency medical treatment for any life-threatening, flu-related symptoms, including:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pains
  • high fever with accompanying symptoms such as confusion, difficulty staying awake, nausea, or a rash

Flu Care When and Where You Need It Most

If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with the flu, we are here to help.

Visit Emerald Coast Urgent Care today to get your flu symptoms thoroughly examined. You shouldn’t have to live with moderate to severe flu symptoms. 

Our urgent care facility is open daily with no appointments necessary; simply walk in to have your flu symptoms checked and start feeling relief today.

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