Stages of Flu Recovery

Day-by-Day Guide to How Long the Flu Lasts

The stages of flu recovery generally follow a predictable pattern. However, the flu affects different people in different ways.

Influenza (the flu) is a viral infection that involves the nose, throat, and lungs. Not everyone who gets the flu will have the same symptoms. How sick someone feels—and how long they feel sick—varies from person to person.

In general, flu stages follow a day-by-day progression. Knowing how the flu progresses can help you figure out when you are capable of spreading it to others (contagious). Understanding the stages of the flu will also help you get an idea of what having the flu feels like as the days go on, which will help you prepare to treat the flu symptoms that haven't shown up yet.

This article will explain the stages of the flu. You will learn which flu symptoms appear in each flu stage, when you're contagious, and what you can do to feel better as the flu progresses.

day-by-day symptoms of the flu

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Flu Day 0

The first stage of the flu actually starts before you even know you have it.

The day before flu symptoms appear, you are already contagious. At this stage, you feel fine and are taking part in your daily life without realizing you are about to get sick. You likely came in contact with someone who was contagious with the flu sometime in the last 48 hours.

The flu virus spreads through tiny droplets that leave the body when an ill person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These particles can be breathed into the mouths or noses of people nearby.

A person can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Who Is Most at Risk for the Flu?

Certain groups of people are not only at a higher risk of catching the flu, but they are also more likely to get very sick, have complications, and even die.

High-risk groups for the flu include:

  • Babies and young children
  • Older adults
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • People with obesity
  • People who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding
  • People with weakened immune systems (for example, because they are receiving treatment for cancer or taking medications that suppress their immune system)

Flu Day 1

The second stage of the flu is actually day one. You may wake up feeling fine, but feel progressively worse as the day goes on.

At this stage, flu symptoms will come on fast. Headache, sudden high fever, body aches, chills, and tiredness are among the most common early symptoms of the flu.

Once you realize you are sick with the flu, call your healthcare provider— especially if you have asthma or another condition that puts you at higher risk for flu-related complications.

Your provider may ask you to come in for a rapid flu test or prescribe an antiviral medication like Tamiflu (oseltamivir). An at-home test is also available.

When Should I Take Antivirals for the Flu?

Antiviral medications are most effective when they are started within the first 48 hours that you have flu symptoms.

Flu Day 2

The next flu stage is the second day of having the flu—which can be pretty miserable. On this day, 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 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 is often the worst flu stage. This is the day when many symptoms are the most intense.

Your sore throat, body aches, and congestion will be severe. If you experience gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, they will be bad today as well.

Get plenty of rest and fluids today. Remember that you are still contagious, so try to stay away from other people. Cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands frequently.

When to Seek Immediate Care for the Flu

The flu can be a serious illness—even a deadly one. Some symptoms of the flu in adults and children can be signs that the infection is serious enough to require immediate medical care.

If you or your child is sick with the flu and cannot breathe, has a high fever, cannot stop vomiting, or becomes confused, go to the emergency room.

Flu Day 4

Day four can be a turning point flu stage. You may start to feel a little better during the day.

Your fever is likely to have broken, you shouldn't have as many body aches, and any congestion you've been having should start to loosen up. However, this will make your cough more productive and possibly worse than it was the day before.

While you may feel better for part of the day, it is still important to get rest and plenty of fluids. 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, so continue to stay away from other people.

Am I Still Contagious?

People with the flu may be contagious at any time between the day before to seven days after their symptoms start.

Flu Day 5

By day five, you should be starting to feel better. At this flu stage, 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 needs to be treated with antibiotics. If you have a cough that keeps you up at night, you might need to take a prescription cough medicine.

Your provider may want you to come into the office to be checked out. If you still have a cough, your provider's office may give you a mask to wear in the waiting room to help prevent you from spreading your germs to others.

Flu Day 6

On the sixth day of having the flu, you should be breathing easier and be fever-free. At this flu stage, you will probably still be tired.

You may feel well enough to go back to work, which is fine as long as you have not had a fever for the last 24 hours without taking any fever-reducing medications.

If you return to sharing public spaces, 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 of having the flu, you are likely feeling better, but still not 100%. At this stage of flu recovery, if you do not feel like you are getting better, or you felt better for a little while but then get sick again, call your provider.

You should no longer have a fever by this stage of flu recovery. If fever returns, it can be a sign that you have a secondary infection. You may still have a lingering cough. If you feel that it's not improving, let your provider know.

Flu Day 8

By the eighth day after getting the flu, you should be well on your way to recovery. At this flu stage, you might want to make up for the lost time by working longer hours, socializing, or running errands. You should still take it easy for another day.

If you are used to exercising regularly, you should be fine to work out again—just don't go overboard with your workouts. Remember, your body is still recovering from being ill. At this flu stage, you may still have a slight cough. Listen to your body, and don't push yourself too hard.

Cold and Flu Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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The flu is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Not everyone experiences the same flu symptoms. The flu is transmitted between people through tiny droplets that escape from 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, then touch your hands, nose, or mouth.

There are different stages of flu recovery. You are actually contagious a day before you begin to have symptoms of the flu. You'll usually be recovered from the flu around eight days after your first symptoms.

If you are at a higher risk of having complications from the flu, work with your healthcare provider as soon as you start feeling sick. Taking antiviral medications within 48 hours of when your symptoms first appear can help prevent complications and may shorten the amount of time you are sick.

As you recover from the flu, don't overdo it. If you feel like you aren't improving, call a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which stage of the flu are you contagious?

    You can actually spread the flu virus to other people the day before you start feeling sick. Technically, you are contagious 24 hours before you get flu symptoms.

  • Which day of having the flu is the worst?

    Most people who get the flu feel the worst symptoms on the second or third day.

  • How long into flu recovery should you start feeling better?

    Most generally healthy people will start to "bounce back" from the flu after about five days. After a week, people are usually getting back to their regular activities and work, though they may still feel tired or have a cough.

  • What are the flu stages in toddlers and kids?

    Toddlers and children who are sick will progress through the stages of the flu similar to how adults do. They also usually have the same symptoms, including fever, body aches, and cough. Most kids who are otherwise healthy will start to feel better after about a week of having the flu.

    However, since young children may not practice proper hand hygiene or remember to cover their mouth when they cough, they do tend to spread the flu (and other infectious illnesses) more readily.

9 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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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts About Influenza (Flu).

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People at Higher Risk of Flu Complications.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (Flu) Treatment: What You Need to Know.

  6. Han A, Poon JL, Powers JH 3rd, Leidy NK, Yu R, Memoli MJ. Using the Influenza Patient-Reported Outcome (FLU-PRO) diary to evaluate symptoms of influenza viral infection in a healthy human challenge model. BMC Infect Dis. 2018;18(1):353. doi:10.1186/s12879-018-3220-8

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick.

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By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.