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Influenza (Seasonal Flu) (cont.)

Exams and Tests

Doctors can diagnose influenza (flu) using your symptoms alone if many cases of a similar illness have occurred in the community and if the local health department has confirmed a flu outbreak.

Tests to confirm you have the flu and to find out the type of virus may be important if:

  • The results may affect treatment decisions. During a confirmed flu outbreak, though, testing may not be needed even if treatment with an antiviral medicine is being considered.
  • In addition to flu-like symptoms, you have any unusual symptoms that suggest another condition.
  • Health authorities have not identified any other cases of flu in your area.

Testing may involve blood tests (rarely used) or a culture to identify the virus. Some cultures take 24 to 48 hours for results, so they will not help your doctor decide whether to prescribe an antiviral medicine. A rapid flu test is now available that gives results in 30 minutes. Although this test is not 100% accurate, it can be useful when deciding whether to use an antiviral medicine.

Treatment Overview

In most healthy people, influenza (flu) will go away in 5 to 7 days. The worst symptoms usually last 3 to 4 days. Home treatment to ease symptoms and prevent complications is usually all that is needed.

Antiviral medicines may help:

  • Reduce the severity and duration of symptoms caused by infection with influenza A or B virus.
  • Shorten the length of the illness.
  • Control outbreaks of the flu in nursing homes.
  • Reduce the spread of the virus to people at high risk for severe complications of the flu (high-risk groups).
  • Reduce complications from the flu.

People at high risk of complications are encouraged to contact a doctor within 48 hours of their first symptoms to find out whether they need medicine to shorten the illness. They also should call a doctor to receive medicine if they have been exposed to the flu.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Flu: Should I Take Antiviral Medicine?

If medicines are not used, contact your doctor if symptoms of a complication develop.

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eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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