Since 2018 has started, there have been plenty of things to worry about (America's political climate comes to mind), but one thing people can't stop stressing over is the flu. By now, you likely already know that the U.S. is experiencing the worst flu season in over a decade. The flu vaccine has shown to be only 25 percent effective against the strain that has taken over the last few months. So far 84 children have died from the flu, and hundreds more have been hospitalized. Unfortunately, it's not going anywhere any time soon — flu season can go until as late as early May, and February is typically the worst month of the entire season. If you end up getting the flu, you need to know the basics: like how long the flu lasts.
Between the symptoms and the serious threat of potential death, the flu is not a fun illness to have. While it may share some of the same symptoms of the common cold, it's not even close to as tame. It's also highly contagious because it's a viral infection that's transmitted through the air (via coughing, sneezing, talking, etc.) and on surfaces. Doctors say that there's a 50/50 chance you'll get sick if you're exposed to the virus, but if you get the vaccine, the chances of staying healthy are higher.
Flu symptoms will typically start within one to four days after infection, and they can come on very suddenly — you might be fine one day, then sick as a dog the next. The first signs usually involve fever, headache, sore throat, dry cough, runny nose, muscle aches, and fatigue. From there, you can go on to have flushed skin, bloodshot eyes, a severe cough, and nasal congestion. Nausea and vomiting can also happen.
Unfortunately, it doesn't go away very quickly. The flu can last anywhere between two to seven days, and sometimes longer. The good news is that the worst of the virus is generally over in a few days, with just some lingering symptoms holding on the rest of the time. Dr. Susan Besser told Reader's Digest that "headaches, body aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms (including nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea)" take a few days to resolve. The bad news is that it can take up to two weeks for all symptoms to disappear. That includes fatigue and coughing.
Of course, it's important to note that the length of the flu depends on the patient suffering from it. Despite the news on the effectiveness of the flu shot, doctors maintain that those who have gotten the shot are likely to recover faster than those who never received it. Anyone with an underlying illness could take longer to recover and could be at higher risk for more serious complications. The flu is always seen as more serious in young children and older people, so age is another factor to take into consideration.
It's also important to note how long the flu is contagious for. You'll hear conflicting information - some say that after taking medication, it's no longer contagious, even if you still have symptoms. Others assume it's not contagious until symptoms occur. Actually, the flu is the most contagious the day before symptoms occur. So, you'll feel and seem healthy, but actually, you could be spreading the virus.
If you do end up getting the flu, the CDC recommends "that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings."
If you end up getting the flu, expect to be out of commission for at least a week — although hopefully you'll experience a speedy recovery.