Stages of the Flu—Day by Day

The flu affects different people in different ways. Not everyone who gets the flu will have the same symptoms, and how sick you feel—and for how long that's the case—can vary from person to person.

That said, the flu typically cycles through a set of stages and follows a usual day-by-day progression. Knowing more about them can help give you a sense of when you (or someone else) is contagious, what the experience of having the illness is like, and how to better prepare for the treatment of symptoms that may have yet to surface.

day-by-day symptoms of the flu
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Flu Day 0

The day before any influenza symptoms appear, you are already contagious. You feel fine and go about your daily life without realizing you are about to get sick. You likely came in contact with someone who was contagious with the flu in the past 48 hours.

The flu virus spreads via tiny water droplets that are expelled when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These particles can land in the mouths or noses of those who are nearby. A person can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Flu Day 1

Flu symptoms hit pretty rapidly on day one. You may wake up feeling fine, but feel progressively worsen as the hours pass. Headache, sudden high fever, body aches, chills, and tiredness are among the most common initial symptoms of the flu.

Once you realize you may be sick with the flu, call your doctor, especially if you have asthma or an other condition that puts you at higher risk for related complications. Your doctor may ask you to come in for a rapid flu test or prescribe an antiviral medication like Tamiflu (oseltamivir).

Antiviral medications are most effective if started within the first 48 hours of symptoms.​​

Flu Day 2

The second day with the flu is pretty miserable—so bad you may not be able to get out of bed. Congestion, coughing, and fever may have you feeling like even your eyelids hurt. At this point, you are still contagious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you stay away from others while you are sick. Stay home except to get medical care or other necessities for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.

Flu Day 3

The third day of the flu is possibly the worst, so get plenty of rest and fluids today. This is the day when many symptoms reach their peak intensity.

Aside from sore throat, body aches, and congestion likely being at their worst, if you experience gastrointestinal symptoms, they will be most severe today as well.

You are still contagious today, so try to stay away from other people. Remember to cover your mouth when you cough and to wash your hands frequently.

When to Seek Immediate Care

The flu is a serious illness that can be deadly. If you experience any symptoms that may indicate an emergency, seek immediate medical care. Note that these may differ slightly between adults and children.

Flu Day 4

On day four, you may start to feel a little better during the day. At this point, your fever is likely to have broken and your body aches should be lessening. Congestion may be starting to loosen up, making your cough more productive and possibly worse than the day before.

While you may feel better for part of the day, it is still important to get rest, plenty of fluids, and to stay away from other people. By the end of the day, you may start to feel worse again and your fever may return.

You are still contagious until you have been fever-free for 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicine.

People with the flu may be contagious anywhere between the day before to seven days after their symptoms appear.

Flu Day 5

On day five of the flu, you should be starting to feel better. Your fever should be gone and the congestion should be lessening, though your cough may linger. You should still stay home, rest, and take plenty of fluids.

If you are not starting to feel better by day five and your symptoms are worsening, call your doctor. You may have a secondary infection, such as bronchitis or an ear or sinus infection that may require antibiotics.

A cough that keeps you up at night may require a prescription cough medicine. Your doctor may want you to come into the office to be checked out. If you still have a cough, your doctor's office may give you a mask to wear in the waiting room to keep you from transmitting your germs to others.

Flu Day 6

On the sixth day with the flu, you should be breathing easier and fever-free, though you will likely still be tired. You may feel well enough to go back to work, which is fine at this point provided you have not had a fever for more than 24 hours. If you return to sharing public spaces, be sure to cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or the crook of your elbow. Wash your hands after using tissues or coughing into them and disinfect any surfaces in your work area.

Flu Day 7

When you wake up on day seven, you are likely feeling better, but still not 100%. If you do not feel like you are on the road to recovery, or you felt better briefly but then get sick again, call your doctor.

At this point, you should no longer have a fever, but if a fever returns, it is often a sign of a secondary infection. You may still have a lingering cough at this point, but if you do not feel it is improving, talk to your doctor.

Flu Day 8

By the eighth day after getting the flu, you should be well on your way to recovery. You may be tempted to make up for the lost time by working extra hours, socializing, or running extra errands, but you should still take it easy for another day.

If you are used to exercising regularly, you should be fine to work out again, but don't go overboard. Your body is still recovering from being ill and you may still have a lingering cough. Listen to your body and don't push yourself too hard.

Cold and Flu Doctor Discussion Guide

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A Word From Verywell

Each case of flu is different, and the severity of your symptoms can depend on whether or not you have had a flu shot, your overall health, and any underlying chronic health conditions you may have.

If you are at an increased risk of complications from the flu, it is important to work with your doctor from the start. Getting antiviral medications within the first 48 hours of symptom onset can help prevent complications and shorten the duration of your illness.

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Article Sources
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