Flu and other Influenza-like Illnesses

Flu, also known as influenza, is a contagious virus that spreads through respiratory droplets. Two main types of flu - Flu A and Flu B - typically circulate in humans. Flu season in Alabama usually lasts from November to late May, and it peaks in the late winter months.

The prevalence of flu will change from season to season. The more cases of flu there are in your community, the more likely you are to be exposed to the flu. You can check the CDC Flu Tracker to monitor flu activity in your area.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

There is an overlap of symptoms of flu with COVID-19 and other influenza-like illnesses. Symptoms of flu and influenza-like illnesses include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach

Symptoms of flu typically appear 1 to 4 days after you’ve been infected, and you usually feel better from the flu in 7 to 10 days. Flu also comes on rapidly, while a cold or COVID-19 will come on a little more slowly. Because so many symptoms overlap, it’s impossible to tell the difference between flu and COVID-19 without a test.

When should you go to urgent care for the flu?

Before the onset of COVID-19, it was advisable to take a wait-and-see approach with the flu. If you have not had a previous COVID infection, you should get tested for both COVID and the flu if you have any flu-like symptoms.

Get tested as soon as you start to have symptoms. Knowing what has caused your illness will help you know how to mitigate spread and how best to treat your illness. You can get tested for both flu and COVID-19 at any MedHelp urgent care clinic.

Some cases of flu will be more severe. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should go to the nearest ER:

  • Difficulty breathing, especially when at rest
  • Severe chest pain
  • Blue lips or face
  • Confusion

What your urgent care doctor can do for the flu

If your flu is detected early (usually within two days of getting sick), your urgent care doctor may prescribe antiviral treatment such as Tamiflu. Antiviral treatment can shorten the duration of your illness and possibly reduce the severity of your flu symptoms, but it is not a cure. Antiviral treatment isn’t for everyone, and antivirals aren’t the same as antibiotics. Your flu will resolve without an antiviral prescription.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also recommend a steroid injection. When your immune system is weakened, you may develop secondary infections such as pneumonia, so your doctor may also recommend a chest x-ray.

What you can do for the flu

If you do get the flu, avoid contact with others for 5 to 7 days from the onset of symptoms. You can still be contagious without a fever.

While you’re recovering from the flu, make sure to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. You can also take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to reduce your fever and relieve aches and pains

How to prevent the flu

Everyone over the age of six months old should get vaccinated for the flu each year. The annual flu vaccine is designed to protect against the most common flu strains circulating in a given year. The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu each year.

Research also indicates that the flu shot can also offer some unique benefits in the context of COVID-19, making it less likely that you’ll contract COVID or develop severe complications from COVID-19 if you are infected.