How Long Is The Flu Contagious, And What Can You Do About It?

How Long Is The Flu Contagious, And What Can You Do About It?

How Long Is The Flu Contagious, And What Can You Do About It?

Apr 06, 2023

Every year, millions of people in the United States are affected by influenza, more frequently called "flu." It is a viral illness that produces a variety of symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches. It is very contagious and spreads quickly from one individual to another. Knowing how long is the flu contagious is crucial so that you can take precautions to safeguard yourself and your family. In this guide, we will share everything about the estimated flu's infectious period and advise you on remaining healthy while the flu is in circulation.

How Long Is The Flu Contagious?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that a person with the flu can spread the infection from day one before showing any signs. Even after seven days, there are many cases in which an infected person shows little or no sign. 

How Long Is The Flu Contagious, And What Can You Do About It?

People with weak immune systems, such as young children, older adults, and those with long-term medical conditions, may occasionally be contagious for extended periods. It should be noted that some people can have the flu but not exhibit any symptoms, and they can still infect others.

How Does The Flu Spread?

Respiratory droplets are transmitted when an individual with the flu coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets can land in the nose and mouth of the people who are nearby the infected person. A person can get the flu by inhaling the infectious virus in the lungs or touching an object or surface that is already infected with the flu virus. 

To prevent it from spreading, you can contract the virus by touching your mouth, nose, or eyes after coming into contact with a place exposed to it. The annual flu shot, frequent hand washing, and avoiding close contact with sick individuals are the best ways to stop the spread of the illness.

Symptoms Of Flu

The flu can cause a range of symptoms, including –

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Additionally, some individuals may experience nausea and diarrhea, though children are more likely to experience these symptoms than adults.

Prevention Of Flu 

The most significant defense against the flu is to get vaccinated annually. With very few exceptions, everyone older than six months old should get the flu shot. If you contract the flu, the vaccine can lessen the severity of your symptoms and help safeguard you against the most prevalent flu virus strains. 

You can take additional measures to stop the flu from spreading in addition to getting immunized, such as:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly.
  • Use a tissue to block your sneezes and coughs.
  • Keep yourself distant from sick individuals.
  • Stay at home if you're ill and skip work or school.
  • Sanitize and clean commonly touched items and surfaces.

Season Of Flu

The influenza season can begin in autumn and last until spring. December and February is the month when the flu season reaches its height. However, the flu season can start at different times each year and be more severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest being vaccinated as soon as possible, ideally by the end of October, when the flu vaccine is available each year. 

Bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and a worsening of long-term health problems like congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes can all be flu complications.

Also Read: Omicron BF.7: A New COVID Variant

Treatment Of Flu

Although there is no known treatment for the flu, antiviral drugs can help shorten the length and severity of the sickness. These medications work best when consumed within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. The following are additional cold remedies:

  • Get plenty of rest and water.
  • Take over-the-counter discomfort, fever, and cough relievers.
  • Use a humidifier or saline nose spray to reduce contagion.

Tests For Flu

Several diagnostic tests can be used to find flu viruses in lung samples. Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests (RIDTs) are the most popular. RIDTs identify the viral components (antigens) that trigger an immune reaction. Although these tests can deliver findings in about 10-15 minutes, they might not be as precise as other flu tests.

Since your rapid test returned negative, you could still be sick with the virus. Rapid molecular analyses, another type of flu test, find the genetic material of the flu virus. Compared to RIDTs, findings from rapid molecular assays are available in 15–20 minutes.

Several more precise flu tests can be used in addition to RIDTs and quick molecular analysis but need to be carried out in specialized labs, like those found in hospitals and public health facilities. 

Viral culture, immunofluorescence assays, and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) are some techniques. For each exam, a doctor or other medical professional must swab the back of your throat or the inside of your nose and then submit the sample for analysis.

Does The Severity Of The Flu Season Affect The Seasonal Frequency Of The Illness?

The number of individuals who contract the flu varies. According to a study, every year, between 3-11% of U.S. people become ill with the flu. The 2011–2012 season was characterized as having a low severity and being dominated by the H1N1 virus. 

The estimated flu incidence over two seasons was around 11%; 2012–2013 was an H3N2-predominant season categorized as having a moderate severity, while 2014–2015 was an H3N2-predominant season classified as having a high severity.

People At Higher Risk Of Flu 

Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and severe complications from the flu can occur at any age. Still, some people are more likely to experience severe complications from the flu if they become ill. People 65 years of age and higher, people of any age with specific chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and kids under the age of five are included in this severity.

Purpose Of U.S. Influenza Surveillance

The CDC's Influenza Division gathers, organizes, and examines data on seasonal influenza activity in the country. FluView, a report on the weekly influenza surveillance, and FluView Interactive, an online tool that enables a more thorough investigation of the influenza surveillance data, are revised each week. 

The information provided each week is preliminary and subject to change as new information is obtained. The CDC works with many organizations to develop the U.S. influenza surveillance system, including state, local, and territorial health agencies, public health and clinical labs, vital statistics offices, healthcare organizations, hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, and long-term care facilities. Five types of data are gathered from nine data sources:

  • Determine the times and places where flu activity is occurring;
  • Identify the active influenza pathogens;
  • Measure the effect of influenza on sickness, hospitalizations, and fatalities. Detects changes in influenza viruses.
  • For the following reasons, it is crucial to keep a broad framework for influenza surveillance:
  • Since influenza viruses are continually evolving (known as "antigenic drift"), ongoing data collection and virus characterization are necessary.
  • Influenza viruses can also experience an abrupt, significant change known as an "antigenic shift" that produces a very distinct virus from the influenza viruses presently in circulation. These changes can be identified by virus surveillance, which can then help guide the public health reaction.
  • It is advised to get vaccinated annually, and vaccines are frequently revised based on surveillance results.
  • Monitoring antiviral tolerance in the lab helps treat influenza virus infection.
  • The effects of influenza on various segments of the population are tracked using influenza surveillance and targeted research projects. 

Considering Surveillance For Influenza 

The following details regarding influenza monitoring in the U.S. should not be forgotten:

The CDC only accepts volunteer reports of influenza activity from public health organizations and healthcare professionals. Where, when, and which influenza viruses are in circulation are all issues that surveillance data can answer. Although it cannot directly provide the number of influenza illnesses, it can be used to gauge whether influenza activity is rising or falling. 

Please see Disease Burden of Influenza for more details on how the CDC categorizes influenza severity and the disease burden (number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and fatalities) associated with influenza. According to the week that the event (such as a positive laboratory test, an outpatient visit, or a death) occurred, influenza surveillance statistics are compiled. 

The beginning of the week is on Sunday, and it concludes the following Saturday. Each participant in the surveillance program must submit their statistics to the CDC by Tuesday next week. The information is then retrieved, assembled, and examined at the CDC. Every Friday, FluView and FluView Interactive are refreshed.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) week 40 marks the start of the reporting time for each influenza season, which lasts until week 39 of the following year. MMWR weeks are the weeks that are numbered in order from Sunday through Saturday of a given year. It implies that the precise start of each new influenza surveillance season differs slightly. 

The flu season for 2022–2023 starts on October 2, 2022, and concludes on September 30, 2023. Flu season, identified by a spike in flu activity, differs from year to year. In most seasons, activity starts to rise in October, typically reaches its apex between December and February, and can continue to increase into May. When multiple CDC influenza surveillance networks record consecutive weeks of elevated flu activity, the flu season is considered to have officially begun.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations for the United States 2022–2023 influenza season, Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines, have been released. 

With rare exceptions, the CDC advises everyone in the U.S. six months and older to receive a flu shot each season. There is also more information accessible regarding the flu season in 2022–2023, which you can read in detail by visiting: U.S. Flu Season 2022-23

Wrap Up

People in the U.S. need to understand how long is the flu contagious and how to prevent it from spreading. You can safeguard yourself and others by getting vaccinated, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding direct contact with sick people. You can also lessen the effects of the flu on your health and the health of those around you by being educated and taking precautions. 

We hope you have a better understanding of the contagious period of flu and other vital details. For more information, you can subscribe to our newsletter. Don't forget to share this guide with others to spread awareness about the flu.



Can A Flu Shot Give You The Flu?

No, receiving a flu vaccine won't give you the flu. Since the flu vaccine is created from a dead virus, it cannot spread the flu.

How Many Individuals Contract The Flu Each Year?

In a 2018 CDC study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the percentage of Americans who contracted the flu using two different techniques was compared. Similar findings from both methods suggested that, on average, 8% of the U.S. population gets the flu each season, with seasonal variations ranging from 3% to 11%.

Who Is Most Vulnerable To Catching The Flu?

The CDC research showed that people 65 and older have the lowest risk of contracting the flu, while children have the highest chance. For children aged 0 to 17 years, the median incidence values (or attack rates) were 9.3%; for those aged 18 to 64, they were 8.8%; and for those aged 65 and over, they were 3.9%. It indicates that adults 65 and later have a higher risk of developing a symptomatic flu virus infection than children under 18.

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