Flu Symptoms and Treatment

How to stay healthy during flu season in San Diego

A clinician appears ready to provide information about flu vaccinations, flu treatment and flu prevention.

How to stay healthy during flu season in San Diego

During flu season, it’s important to understand how to prevent the flu, flu symptoms, flu treatment and how the flu is spread. Learn more about the flu vaccine and how it works to prevent or diminish the flu virus. 

Respiratory illnesses, the flu and the common cold can have similar symptoms, although they are caused by different viruses. A cold is milder than the flu and does not generally result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia. Flu symptoms are more severe and intense and include chills, fever and headache. Check with your Scripps physician to determine if you have the flu versus a cold. It can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. 

Flu virus FAQs

Many people misunderstand what the flu is and how it's spread. Get the facts and learn how to stay well this flu season.

How long does the flu last?

For most healthy individuals, the flu typically lasts a week. The most severe symptoms usually subside in two or three days. If you have an underlying condition, such as emphysema or another chronic illness, symptoms like fatigue, weakness and a cough often last up to two weeks.

When is flu season?

In the United States, flu season occurs annually beginning in the fall. Flu activity usually increases in October and November and peaks between December and February. The flu season can last as late as May.

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

Early symptoms of a cold and the flu can be similar, including congestion, coughing and fatigue. However, flu symptoms come on rapidly and may include high fever, body aches and pains, headaches, chest congestion and a cough. In general, the flu is more severe than the common cold, with more intense symptoms. 

The common cold usually starts slowly. Symptoms that are not typical of the flu are a stuffy or runny nose and sore throat. 

Learn more about the differences between the flu and the common cold.

How is the flu treated?

Most cases of the flu are treated primarily with bed rest and plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help with symptoms. Fever reducers, antihistamines, decongestants and cough medicines may help relieve symptoms.  

Prescription antiviral flu drugs may be a treatment option if you are at high risk of serious flu complications. When started within two days of becoming sick, antiviral drugs can decrease the severity and duration of flu symptoms and prevent flu complications. 

Always check with your doctor about the treatment plan that is right for you or a loved one. 

Is the flu contagious?

Yes, the flu is contagious. You are most contagious in the first three to four days after the illness begins. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.