Here's How Long You Could Really Be Sick With The Flu

In spite of hand-washing and constant disinfecting, there's still a chance you could get sick with influenza as the weather starts to cool off. If that happens, here's how long you can expect to be out of commission.

Influenza is a highly contagious, viral infection that is most often transmitted from person to person through the tiny droplets that infected persons share when they cough or sneeze (via CDC). According to Healthline, the virus can also live for up to 24 hours on hard surfaces like doorknobs and faucets.

A person can be contagious from about a day before symptoms appear, to approximately five to seven days later, according to the CDC, with the highest level of contagiousness being 24 to 48 hours after symptoms begin to appear.

The worst of the classic flu symptoms — muscle aches, fever, nausea, vomiting, and sore throat — should resolve in three to seven days for the average healthy adult, according to Health, but coughing and fatigue can last another week or longer. Getting a flu shot may reduce the length or severity of symptoms.

Plenty of rest and fluids can help

But for some groups — like young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with underlying conditions — it can take longer to fight off the infection. Susan Besser, M.D., who practices primary care and family medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, told The Healthy, "Some patients may recover more quickly than others. If a person has an underlying illness (such as emphysema or other chronic illness), that person may take longer to recover."

In most cases, the flu will pass by itself and the best remedy is the classic combination of plenty of rest, fluids, and TLC. But in some cases, serious complications can result from the infection. The CDC reports that over 400,000 hospitalizations were due to influenza complications during the 2019-2020 season, with 43 percent of those being older adults over the age of 65.

That's why it's important to see your doctor if you have symptoms outside of those normally associated with the flu, like chest pain, seizures, dizziness, difficulty breathing, or fever above 104 F. Julie Holland, a pediatrician with NorthShore University Health System, told Insider, "People should see a doctor if they're having symptoms out of the ordinary. Cough or stuffy nose are normal. It's not normal to have difficulty breathing."