The flu (also called influenza) is a viral infection. It affects the respiratory system. It can cause mild-to-severe illness, and sometimes it can lead to death. Find out more below:

Flu Symptoms

The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. According to the CDC, people who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

* It is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Influenza in Children

Children under five years old, and especially under two, are at increased risk for flu complications. If your child is in these high-risk groups and has flu symptoms, call your pediatrician. Seek emergency care immediately if your child:

  • Has blue or purplish skin color
  • Is so irritable that they don’t want to be held
  • Cries without tears (in infants)
  • Has a fever with a rash
  • Has trouble waking up
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has stomach or chest pain or pressure
  • Has signs of dehydration such as dizziness or not passing urine
  • Has confusion
  • Can’t stop vomiting or can’t drink enough fluids

Pediatric-Ready ER locations

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months old and older get the flu shot every year

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

cold = loss of appetite, sore throat, sneezing, couch, vomiting, and flu = muscle pain, high fever, headache, fatigue, and chills

Infographic courtesy of Sharecare, Inc.

Flu Complications

Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

Think you or your child have the flu, but not sure what to do? View our list of common symptoms and recommended treatment options.

What puts me or my child at high risk?

  • I didn't get a flu shot
  • I'm 65 or older
  • I'm younger than 5
  • I have asthma
  • I have cancer
  • I have diabetes
  • I have a neurological condition
  • I'm pregnant
  • I have heart disease
  • I have kidney problems
  • I have liver problems
  • I have trouble fighting infections
  • I have chronic lung disease

Do I have the flu?

Level Do I have the flu? Does my child have the flu?
  • I feel great!
  • My child feels great!
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Mild body aches
  • Cough
  • Fever less than 102°
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Mild body aches
  • Cough
  • Fever less than 102°
  • Diarrhea/vomiting
  • Fever more than 102°
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness/confusion
  • Severe body aches
  • Severe headache
  • Symptoms improve, but return and worsen
  • Diarrhea/vomiting
  • Fever with rash
  • Fast/difficult breathing
  • Unable to eat
  • No tears when crying
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Excessively irritable, doesn't want to be held
  • Bluish skin color
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
  • Symptoms improve, but return and worsen

What should I do?

Get a flu shot (vaccine)

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Check in with your doctor

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Go to the emergency room

If you are experiencing severe flu symptoms, it's important to be seen at an ER right away. See our average ER wait times above. In the event of an emergency, call 911.


Flu Vaccine Myths That Can Make You Sick

It’s that time of the year again: flu shot time. If you’re like most people, getting a shot is about as exciting as getting a root canal. But before you skip getting vaccinated, read these common myths that can make you sick.

Fact: The timing of flu season is unpredictable.
While it tends to peak from December to February, the flu season actually runs from October through May, and it’s hard to say when the virus will start making its rounds. Not only that, but it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to kick in. If you wait, you could end up getting it too late in the season to help. (And what’s worse than getting a shot and then getting sick because you procrastinated?)

Fact: Only your doctor can tell you if you aren’t eligible for the flu shot.
As long as you don't have a fever above 101 or any other significant illness, it's okay to get the flu shot before your cold clears up.

Fact: The flu vaccine cuts your risk of getting the flu by 50-70 percent percent (not to mention, even if you do get the flu, it reduces your flu symptoms substantially). Look at it this way, you may also still be injured in a car crash even if you wear a seat belt. Does that mean you should ditch wearing a seat belt?

Fact: Flu shots are made with inactivated flu virus, which cannot give you the actual flu.
The most common reaction is soreness or redness at the site of the actual infection. A very small percentage of people will get a low-grade fever and aches as their body builds up an immune response, but this will only last one to two days and is not the same as getting the flu. Similarly, if you have ever gotten the nasal spray, which is a very weakened flu virus, you may have gotten a stuffy nose or cold-like symptoms as your body builds up an immune response.

Fact: Antibiotics don't treat viral infections like the flu.
If someone develops a serious complication of the flu, such as pneumonia, then they need antibiotics. But the antibiotics won't help the flu at all and may actually cause other unwanted side effects.

Fact: The flu vaccine protects you and your baby.
The flu is, in fact, more likely to cause severe illness and complications if you’re expecting. It can also cause premature labor and other health issues for your baby. And here’s good news: the flu shot you get now will protect your baby after his or her birth. Just make sure to get the standard flu injection, not the nasal spray.

Fact: Thousands die from flu-related issues every year.
Certain groups of people are even more vulnerable and can develop deadly complications from the flu – specifically:

  • Children under 2
  • Adults over 65
  • Women who are pregnant
  • People with heart, kidney or liver disease, asthma, COPD, diabetes and all other chronic medical conditions
  • People who are morbidly obese

Fact: There are many convenient options to get your flu shot now.
You may be able to get it at the grocery store or at your child’s pediatrician’s office when you get your child a flu shot. Other options include pharmacies, local health clinics and your workplace.

Fact: If you hate shots that's not a myth, it's a fact.
The good news is that the vaccine comes in a couple of forms for those who fear needles, including nasal spray and intradermal shots (injected in the skin with a smaller needle). The bad news is that the CDC is not recommending the nasal spray for the 2016-2017 flu season, because it has been shown to be ineffective protection against the flu. Remember, too, that if you come down with the flu you can infect children or less healthy (and more vulnerable) people around you. So get your flu shot.

Information courtesy of Sharecare, Inc. Learn more about flu shot myths and facts.

Did you know? Every year an estimated 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized for flu complications. Like pneumonia. Everyone in your family who is 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine. This year, Next year, Every year.