Stages of the Flu—Day by Day

The flu is a viral infection that involves the nose, throat, and lungs. It affects different people in different ways. Not everyone who gets the flu will have the same symptoms. And how sick you feel, as well as how long you feel sick, can vary from person to person.

However, in general, the flu typically goes through a set of stages and follows a usual day-by-day progression. Knowing more about these stages can help give you a sense of when you are contagious. It will also help you understand what having the flu feels like. And you'll be more prepared to treat the flu symptoms that haven't shown up yet.

This article will discuss the different stages of the flu. It will give you information about flu symptoms that appear according to each stage of the illness.

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 through tiny droplets that escape the body when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These particles can be breathed into 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 worse as the hours pass. Headache, sudden high fever, body aches, chills, and tiredness are among the most common early symptoms of the flu.

Once you realize you may be sick with the flu, call your healthcare provider. This is especially important if you have asthma or another condition that puts you at higher risk for related complications. Your healthcare provider 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. Remain at 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 are the most intense.

Your sore throat, body aches, and congestion will be extremely severe. If you experience gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, they will be 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 emergency symptoms 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 you shouldn't have as many body aches. Congestion may be starting to loosen up. This will make 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 and plenty of fluids. You should also continue 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 is probably gone. You should have less congestion but may still have a cough. Continue to stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids.

If you are not starting to feel better by day five and your symptoms are getting worse, call your healthcare provider. 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 healthcare provider may want you to come into the office to be checked out. If you still have a cough, your healthcare provider's office may give you a mask to wear in the waiting room. This will keep you from spreading your germs to others.

Flu Day 6

On the sixth day with the flu, you should be breathing easier and fever-free, But you will probably still be tired. You may feel well enough to go back to work. This is fine at this point as long as you have been fever-free for at least 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. 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 healthcare provider.

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 also still have a cough that keeps hanging around. But if you do not feel it is improving, talk to your healthcare provider.

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. Don't go overboard with your workouts. Your body is still recovering from being ill, and you may still have a cough. Listen to your body, and don't push yourself too hard.

Cold and Flu Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

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The flu is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Not everyone experiences the same flu symptoms. Flu is transmitted between people through tiny droplets that escape the body when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. You can also get the flu if you touch a surface that has the flu virus on it and then touch your hands, nose, or mouth.

There are different stages of the flu, but you are contagious a day before you begin to show symptoms. After you recover from the flu, usually around eight days after your first symptoms, you should feel much better. Be careful not to overdo it when returning to your daily activities.

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 healthcare provider from the start. Getting antiviral medications within 48 hours of when your symptoms first appear can help prevent complications. It can also shorten the amount of time you are sick.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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