flu virus
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What's the Flu?

It’s a super-contagious virus that can make you feel miserable. Doctors call it influenza. Its symptoms are usually more serious than the sneezes and stuffy nose that you tend to get from a common cold.

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woman with fever
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Flu Symptoms

You typically start to feel bad quickly instead of over time. You may have a high fever, headache and muscle aches, cough, sore throat, and tiredness. You also might have a runny or stuffy nose, chills, headache, and nausea or vomiting.

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How Long Does It Last?

Most symptoms get better after about 5 days. But sometimes they can last for a week or more. Even if your fever and aches are gone, you can still feel drained for a few weeks.

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How the Flu Spreads

You can catch it when someone who has it sneezes or coughs, sending virus-filled droplets into the air that you breathe in. You can also get it if you touch somewhere that the virus landed and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. Flu is more common in winter because people spend more time in close contact with each other, so the virus spreads more easily.

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Home Remedies

Get lots of rest. Drink plenty of clear fluids -- water, broth, and sports drinks -- so you don't get dehydrated, too. You can also try a humidifier or saline spray to help with a stuffy nose. Gargle with salt water for a sore throat.

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Antiviral Treatment

Your doctor may prescribe these pills if you see her within the first 48 hours of feeling bad. The medicine can make your symptoms less severe or shorten them by about 1 day. Antiviral drugs include oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), or zanamivir (Relenza).

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Other Medicine

Pain medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen might ease a fever and body aches. Decongestants can help with a stuffy nose. And cough medicine or drops can help calm your hacking. Ask your doctor which if any of these medicines may be right for you. Keep in mind that antibiotics don't treat a virus like the flu. The only time they may help is if you also get a bacterial infection such as sinusitis, bacterial pneumonia, or an ear infection.

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Get the Vaccine

That's the best way to stay healthy. The vaccine trains your body to recognize influenza and fight it. Because the virus changes from year to year, you need a new flu shot or spray before the start of each flu season in the fall. The vaccine cannot make you sick. It can keep you from getting the illness or help keep your symptoms mild if you do come down with it.

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Avoid the Flu

You can take some other simple steps to dodge it. Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth, because germs are spread that way. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't around.

If you get sick, you can keep other people from getting the flu by staying away from them. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, too. If you don’t have a tissue handy, the inside crook of your elbow is a great place to do it, so you don’t get germs on your hands.

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sick baby
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Keep Babies and Children Safe

It's no fun for an adult to deal with flu symptoms. It's even harder for babies and young children. They are more likely to get other related health issues because of the illness. Talk to your doctor about the flu vaccine for young children and babies older than 6 months. Influenza can be more dangerous for them than a cold.

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Problems From the Flu

Most people recover after a few days without problems. But some get conditions like pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections. People who already have problems like asthma or heart failure may get sicker.

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When to Seek Help

Get emergency medical help right away if you:

         -- Have trouble breathing or feel short of breath

         -- Feel pressure or pain in your chest or stomach

         -- Are dehydrated

         -- Feel confused

         -- Can’t stop vomiting

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/22/2015 Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 22, 2015

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES:

CDC: "Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine," "Flu Symptoms & Severity," "Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine."

Flu.gov: "Seasonal flu," "Treatment."

KidsHealth: "Influenza (Flu)."

UptoDate.com: "Patient information: Influenza prevention (Beyond the Basics)," "Patient information: Influenza symptoms and treatment (Beyond the Basics)."

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 22, 2015

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.