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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 determine the type of virus may be important if:

  • The results may affect treatment decisions. During a confirmed flu outbreak, however, 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 can be taken to:

  • 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.

What to think about

Yearly immunization with the inactivated influenza vaccineClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) (flu shot) or the nasal spray flu vaccineClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) prevents flu infection and its complications in most people. The nasal spray vaccine is approved for use by healthy people who are 2 to 49 years old. You should not get the nasal spray vaccine if you:

Before getting a flu vaccine, talk to your doctor if:

The yearly immunization rate is typically low for people younger than 65 who are at high risk of developing the flu. All people in high-risk groups and those who could transmit the virus to them because of regular contact are strongly encouraged to get the flu vaccine.

Almost every community has a program that offers flu vaccines at low cost during the flu season. You also can get a flu vaccine during a routine visit to a doctor or pharmacy. Many health clinics have set hours at the start of the flu season for people to get flu vaccines without needing to make an appointment.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Flu Vaccines: Should I Get a Flu Vaccine?

Although antiviral medicines sometimes prevent the flu, they do not work in the same way as a yearly immunization and should not replace a flu shot or dose of the nasal spray vaccine.

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