What to do if you are sick or
think you may be infected with the flu
This page includes some of the most important steps for taking care of yourself and protecting others. For more detailed guidance see the following documents:
When should I see a doctor?
Most people sick with the flu have mild disease and do not need to see a doctor or get tested.
If you are at high risk for getting very sick with the flu, contact your doctor to discuss the need for treatment. High risk people include:
- People with lung disease like asthma
- People with other medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, blood cell disease including sickle cell, or neurological disease that affects swallowing or breathing
- Pregnant women and women who have given birth within 2 weeks
- Children age 2 years and under
- Adults age 50 years and over
- People with weak immune systems (due to disease or medicines)
If you have these symptoms call your doctor right away:
- Have difficulty breathing
- Are dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea
- Have a fever that is higher than 101 degrees after taking fever-reducing medicine like acetaminophen (e.g.,Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin or Advil)
- Feel very sick
How is the flu spread?
The flu is spread through tiny wet drops produced when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks. A person without the flu can get it by breathing in these wet drops, or by touching items and surfaces covered with these drops and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. Someone who has the flu may be able to spread it to others about 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after they become sick. People are most contagious during the first 3 days of illness.
What should I do to protect others from getting the flu?
- Stay home and stay away from others until 24 hours after the fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine like acetaminophen (e.g.,Tylenol) or ibuprofen(e.g., Motrin or Advil)
- Do not have visitors
- Try to avoid contact with other othe people living with you
- If possible, choose a room in your home to stay in that is away from others in your household (for example, a spare bedroom with bathroom)
- Choose one person in the household as your caregiver. Your caregiver should not be pregnant, over 64 years old, or have medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, or weak immune system.
- If you want, wear a face mask when around others. Wearing a face mask limits the spread of tiny infected drops that are released when a person talks, coughs or sneezes.
Have everyone in the house use healthy habits:
Should people with the flu wear a mask?
A sick person can wear a face mask when around others to help prevent the spread of flu. Wearing a face mask limits the spread of tiny infected drops that are released when a person talks, coughs or sneezes.
Can I take medicines to help me feel better?
To make your symptoms feel better, take medicines that you would normally take like acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin or Advil) if your doctor has told you it is safe for you. If you are under 18 years of age do NOT take aspirin or medicine with aspirin in it (e.g. Pepto-Bismol) because this can cause a rare serious illness called Reye's syndrome. Also, children under age 4 should not take over-the-counter cold medicines unless their doctor said to take the medicine.
Do I need to take anti-viral medicines to treat the flu virus?
Probably not. Anti-viral medicines are only available with a doctor's prescription. Most people with the flu get better without taking medicine. Your doctor may prescribe anti-viral medicine if you:
- Are very sick
- Have a lung disease like asthma
- Have a medical condition like diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, blood cell disease including sickle cell, or neurological disease that affects swallowing or breathing
- Are pregnant
- Are a child aged 2 years or under
- Are age 65 and up
- Have a weakened immune system (from disease or medicines)
What are the emergency warning signs?
Contact a doctor right away if a young child has these emergency warning signs:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Blue-ish color of skin, lips, or fingertips
- Not drinking enough fluids or not urinating
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then come back with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
Contact a doctor right away if an older child or adult has these emergency warning signs:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Not urinating
When going to the doctor's office or the emergency room:
- Inform the staff ahead of time that you have the flu
- If you call an ambulance, let the 911 operator know that you have the flu. Let the ambulance crew know too when they arrive
- Wear a face mask if you can
- Sit away from others as much as possible
Do I need to go to the emergency room if I am only a little sick?
No. The emergency room should be saved for people who are very sick. People should not go to the emergency room for a mild illness.