What Are the First Signs of Getting the Flu?

Reviewed on 5/12/2022
A couple sick with the flu lying in bed together
When you're coming down with the flu, symptoms usually come on suddenly. The first signs of getting the flu may include fever (not everyone with the flu has a fever), chills, muscle or body aches, sore throat, cough, headache, and vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children).

The flu (influenza) is a respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illness that can result in hospitalization or death. The two main types of flu (influenza) virus, types A and B, are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year.

Symptoms of the flu usually come on suddenly. The first signs of getting the flu may include:

Other symptoms of the flu may include: 

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling unwell (malaise)

The flu and COVID-19 may cause some similar symptoms; however, COVID-19 can cause more severe symptoms and complications.

How Do You Catch the Flu?

The flu (influenza) is caused by influenza viruses passed from person to person through respiratory droplets propelled into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

Less commonly, the flu is transmitted when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes without first washing their hands.

What Tests Are Used to Diagnose the Flu?

The flu (influenza) is diagnosed based upon the patient’s symptoms and a physical examination. 

Tests used to diagnose the flu include:

  • Rapid molecular assays 
    • Detects genetic material of the virus and provide results in about 15-20 minutes
  • Rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) 
    • Provides results in about 15 minutes
    • Less accurate than other flu tests 
  • Other specialized flu tests may be used in hospitals or state public health laboratories
    • Specialized tests are sent to a lab for testing
    • Results may take several hours

What Is the Treatment for the Flu?

The flu (influenza) is treated with home remedies and antiviral medicines in some cases. 

Home remedies to help relieve symptoms of the flu include: 

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Rest
  • Saline nasal spray or drops
  • Breathing in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
  • Clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
  • Sucking on lozenges 
    • Do not give lozenges to young children because they pose a choking hazard
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) for relief of symptoms

Antiviral medications may be used to treat the flu. These medicines work best when taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to help reduce the severity and duration of the flu. 

Antiviral medications used to treat the flu include: 

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Reviewed on 5/12/2022
Image Source: iStock Images