If You're Sick

It is very difficult to distinguish the flu from other infections on the basis of symptoms alone. A doctor's exam may be needed to tell whether you have developed the flu or a complication of the flu. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu as long you are tested within the first 2 or 3 days of illness.

If you develop flu-like symptoms and are concerned about your illness, especially if you are at high risk for complications of the flu, you should consult your health-care provider. Those at high risk for complications include:

  • People 65 years or older
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • Pregnant women
  • Young children

Where to Go

If you get sick and you are at high risk for complications, you can seek treatment in the following ways:

  • Go to your doctor's office. Doctors' offices are usually open during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sometimes getting an appointment with your doctor can take several days. If you do not need immediate medical attention, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
  • Go to urgent care. Urgent care centers usually open early, close late, and have weekend hours. You do not need an appointment to seek medical care at an urgent care center. If your illness is not life-threatening, but you need immediate medical attention, you should go to an urgent care center.
  • Go to the emergency room. Emergency departments are located at hospitals and are open every day, 24 hours a day. You do not need an appointment to seek medical care at an emergency department. If your illness or injury is life-threatening, you should go to the emergency room.

Antiviral Medications

Your doctor may recommend the use of an antiviral medication to help treat the flu. Four antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamavir, and oseltamivir) are approved for treatment of the flu. These are prescription medications, and a doctor should be consulted before the drugs are used. Antiviral treatment lasts for 5 days and must be started within 2 days of illness. Therefore, if you get flu-like symptoms, seek medical care early.

Other Ways to Respond to the Flu

If you get the flu, get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. Also, you can take medications such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) to relieve the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever.

Cold or Flu

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Rare Usual; high (100-102 degrees F, occasionally higher, especially in young children); lasts 3-4 days
Headache Rare Common
General aches, pains
Slight Usual; often severe
Fatigue, weakness
Sometimes Usual; can last up to 2-3 weeks
Extreme exhaustion
Never Usual; at the beginning of the illness
Stuffy nose
Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore throat
Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort, cough
Mild to moderate; hacking cough
Common; can become severe