How Long Does the Flu Last?

How Long Does the Flu Last?

Let’s first define what the flu is.

‘Flu’ is short for influenza. It is a viral infection brought about by viruses infecting the nasal passages, causing respiratory illness of the throat and lungs. The flu is contagious and spreads easily. Exposure is through droplets of bodily fluids created when nearby people cough and sneeze, propelling the infected droplets into the air, generally in an enclosed space. There are 3 different strains (A, B, and C) and also subtypes, but all have the same effect on the illness duration. There is actually a D strain but this only appears in cattle and not humans.

Upon contracting the flu, more than likely during the winter season, you are contagious one day before developing symptoms and up to a week later. It is highly advisable that you limit contact with other people during this period. You may feel well after a day or 2 but still, pass on the flu to someone else. Flu droplets are more easily dispelled and scattered in the open air, so by all means do some outdoor walking when recuperating.

Because the flu has a short incubation period, it comes at you unexpectedly and intensely. You may feel fine in the morning, but in the afternoon, you have crawled into bed moaning about how sick you feel. Some people can be infected mildly, while others contract extreme levels of the symptoms.

Symptoms can be:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Chest discomfort

The start of the flu – the incubation period – is when the infection is at its worst and you will feel just awful, with significant weakness. Over a 4-day period, the virus is multiplying inside your body. Largely, you will feel like not even getting out of bed. The severe symptoms usually last 2 to 3 days, starting with the sudden appearance of a high temperature. Remember fever is the reaction by the body to fight the infection. In the first instance try to let your immune system do the fighting and ride with fever. Rest and drink plenty of fluids. If your temperature gets above 38.9, then treat with Paracetamol (or similar over-the-counter medication) to bring the fever down. Use cold sponges too. However, if you feel that the fever is extreme, then seek medical attention. By increasing your body temperature in the form of a fever, the flu causes dehydration because your body sweats more. You are also breathing faster in an effort to try and regulate your temperature. Increased fluid intake will help fight the infection faster.

Once you have gotten through the worst of it, some symptoms may linger, such as a dry cough and fatigue and these can remain for 2 to 3 weeks afterwards. Most people though bounce back to normal after a week. During this recovery phase, you may experience coloured mucus when you cough or blow your nose. This is quite normal and does not indicate another infection.

There is increased influenza complications in the very young, the elderly, and people with pre-existing medical conditions. These people have weakened immune systems so may present with the complication of deadly pneumonia.

And have you ever wondered why the flu gets worse at night? That is because there is less cortisol in your blood. Cortisol is a hormone that regulates a number of body processes. Cortisol blood levels vary throughout the day, being higher in the morning when we wake, when the pituitary gland reacts by sending a signal to the adrenal glands to commence cortisol production. This process lessens as the day goes by, so by night, there is far less cortisol creation. This results in your white blood cells fighting body infections, provoking the symptoms of the infection to surface stronger, which makes you feel sicker by about 5pm.

Many people mistake the flu and common cold as the same thing. They are not. Yes, they share common symptoms, but the flu symptoms are more acute and flu manifests much quicker. Colds are typically milder and don’t lead to hospitalisations or serious health issues. Both are contagious respiratory sicknesses, but each one is caused by a different virus. Colds are largely caused by rhinovirus, with a large percentage of causes unknown.


  • There is no cure for the flu, just things you can do to ease your discomfort.
  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Flat lemonade is an old remedy. Take the fizz out by adding a teaspoon of sugar.
  • Pain medication to relive high fever, aches and pains.
  • Isolate at home for at least 24 hours after the fever has dissipated and keep contact with others to a minimum.
  • A Dr may prescribe an antiviral medication but note that this does not kill the virus. The antiviral must be taken within 48 hours of getting the flu to have any effectiveness.
  • Stuffy nose can be helped with Vicks or decongestant medicines.
  • Turmeric helps the body cleanse the respiratory tract and its anti-inflammatory properties can relieve people from the immediate impact of the flu.
  • Quercetin is a natural antioxidant whose antiviral properties have been studied.
  • Zinc supplements boost immune response and fight inflammation too.
  • Mild flu will get better on its own without treatment. You may just have to ride it out.
  • Research the information on an annual flu vaccine. It may or may not be for you.
  • Wash your hands regularly with hot soapy water.
  • The flu is a virus and not a bacteria, so you do NOT require antibiotics. Antibiotics will not fight a virus.


Hopefully, these tips may help reduce the severity of your next flu infection or assist with prevention. There is no guarantee as to where you will acquire the infection, so err on the side of caution as always.

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