How Long Does the Flu Last?

Certain interventions may reduce the severity of symptoms

Mother taking daughter's temperature

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Sadly, there is not much you can do to shorten the length of time you are sick with the flu. The flu is caused by a virus and won't respond to antibiotics, which only work on bacterial infections. Most of the time, you'll simply have to deal with the symptoms and ride out the illness.

Flu Duration

The symptoms of flu typically last one to four days but can persist for up to two weeks. In healthy individuals, the shedding of the virus (the time when a person is infectious) will peak on day two and persist for up to a week. In people with compromised immune systems, viral shedding can persist for weeks (even after the flu symptoms have fully resolved).

Bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus infections, and ear infections are common flu complications. You also should see your doctor if you start to feel better but then get much worse, especially if you have a high fever.

If you continue to feel really ill for more than a couple of weeks, call your doctor. You may have developed a secondary infection or illness.

Antiviral Intervention

If you act quickly, you may be able to shorten the length of time you're sick by taking an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or Relenza (zanamivir). For these drugs to work, they need to be started within 48 hours of when symptoms start and they're only available by prescription, so as soon as you suspect you're coming down with the flu, see your doctor.

Research has shown that Tamiflu and Relenza are equally effective in reducing the severity of the swine flu (influenza A/H1N1). On the other hand, Tamiflu appears better suited to treat influenza A/H3N2 (a more serious virus related to H1N1), while Relenza is more beneficial in treating influenza B (a milder form of influenza).

How a Vaccination Can Reduce Flu Severity and Duration

If you had a flu shot but got sick anyway, that shot in the arm probably wasn't a total waste. Even though it didn't prevent you from getting infected, it could very well reduce the severity and duration of your illness.

Studies have shown that vaccinated people who come down with the flu tend to have milder symptoms and a lower risk of complications. This is true even with severe influenza strains, such as H3N2.

But, if you really want to feel better as quickly as possible, the key thing is to get plenty of rest. Stay home from work, delegate duties at home to family members, reschedule meet-ups with friends. In other words, don't push yourself to do anything your body is clearly telling you not to.

When you have the flu, the utter fatigue you feel is for a reason: Your immune system is working hard to fight off the influenza virus and needs the energy to do that. By not honoring the need to sleep and rest, you could end up making your flu last longer.

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