Can You Get the Flu in the Summer?

Woman with flu lying in bed
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Most everyone has heard the term flu season—in the United States, it's in the fall and winter—but many people have also experienced symptoms they thought were caused by the flu during other times of the year as well. The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused specifically by influenza viruses.

You can get influenza any time of year. However, although it is possible to get the flu during the spring or summer, it is extremely unlikely if you haven't been traveling. Most people who think they have the flu actually have any number of other viruses—not influenza.

Travelers and Influenza

Although getting the flu during the late spring and summer is unusual, it is possible. The flu is circulating in some part of the world all the time, which means you can get it at any time. If you are traveling—especially outside of the country—pay close attention to your symptoms and talk to your healthcare provider. Even if you don't have the flu, your doctor needs to know if you have traveled. Different illnesses are predominant in different parts of the world and where you have been could help your doctor order the right tests and make sure you are accurately diagnosed. 

Stomach Flu

The illness that is most often incorrectly referred to as "the flu" is gastroenteritis (also inaccurately called the "stomach flu"). Gastroenteritis is common year round. It causes vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and leaves you feeling horrible for a few days. But it is not related to influenza (the actual flu) in any way. It is caused by a different virus and has different symptoms.

Flu-Like Illnesses

Another possibility when you have flu symptoms and it isn't flu season is that you have a flu-like illness. This means that you have a viral illness that causes symptoms similar to those of the flu but it isn't caused by influenza. Flu-like illnesses can make you miserable, but they are less likely to cause severe symptoms and complications than influenza.

On the remote possibility that you actually are diagnosed with influenza outside of flu season, there are things you need to know about this virus as well.

Influenza Symptoms

Symptoms of influenza include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Congestion
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (in some people, typically children) 

Duration and Contagiousness

If you suspect that you have the flu, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. You may need to be seen to get tested so your doctor can determine if your symptoms are caused by influenza or something else. If you are at high risk, your health care provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine such as Tamiflu to help with your symptoms. However, these medicines are most effective if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

If you do have the flu, it will likely take between three days and two weeks to get over it. Unfortunately, you may pass the virus on before you even know you're sick and you'll remain contagious until about five to seven days after you get sick.

Potential Complications

If you have asthma, diabetes, heart disease, are pregnant, are over the age of 65, or a younger child, you are a high risk for developing complications from the flu. However, complications can occur in healthy people of any age. Potential complications include:

  • A chronic condition that worsens, such as asthma or heart disease
  • Ear infections
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Sinus infections

Treatment

Treatment for the flu can range from prescription antiviral medications to just waiting it out. If you aren't sure, talk to your healthcare provider so you can get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

A Word From Verywell

By knowing the symptoms of influenza and similar illnesses, you can ensure you get proper treatment and help prevent the spread to others. The best way to prevent influenza is to get the annual flu vaccine when it is available, especially if you are in one of the high risk groups or you care for those who are in those groups.

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