The Flu: Symptoms and Treatment

Article | October 2019

The Flu: Symptoms and Treatment

From treatment to vaccine, find the information older adults need to fight the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines the flu as a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death.

Getting a yearly flu vaccination is the first and most important step you can take to protect against the flu and its potentially serious complications.

You may have a high risk of complications:

  • Older adults are more likely to develop complications from the flu.
  • As we get older, our immune systems weaken. That’s why vaccination is so important for people 65 and older.
  • The flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

What are the main flu symptoms?

The flu shares many of the same symptoms as a cold, but the flu usually starts suddenly.

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling feverish or having chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (very tired)

Why get the flu vaccine?

Get your flu shot each year. Vaccines are developed each year based on which flu viruses will be most common. Don’t wait until someone close to you gets the flu. Your body takes about 2 weeks after vaccination to develop protective antibodies. And in some cases, the flu can often be worse for older adults, especially those with chronic conditions, diseases that suppress the immune system, or respiratory problems. And no, you can’t get the flu from the vaccine! The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated).

How does the flu affect older adults?

The flu can be more serious for some older adults and the elderly, especially for those with underlying medical conditions, or with weakened immune systems. As we age, our immune systems naturally weaken, even if we try to stay healthy. This is another good reason to ensure that as you age, you continue to get your flu shot each year. If you’re a caregiver, make sure to ask the patient’s primary care provider to administer the flu shot during a visit.

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

  • See your doctor as soon as you suspect you have the flu.
  • Your doctor can prescribe antiviral drugs that can make your illness milder and shorter. These drugs work best if started within 2 days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful.
  • Remember, an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

If I get the flu, how can I stop the germs from spreading?

  • Stay home: You should stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes: Be sure to use a tissue and throw it in the trash.
  • Wash your hands often: Wash with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub.

More Information

For more facts about the flu, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Women sneezing and sick