How Long Does The Flu Last?

As with many seemingly simple questions, the answer to this particular question of how long does the flu last is – it depends.

Questions framed like this can be compared to the unanswerable riddle “how long is a piece of string?”

But, before attempting to put the duration of the condition into some sort of time frame, it’s important to understand something about it. It’s also important to try to distinguish between the flu and the common cold, which is very difficult to do in the early stages.

Firstly, what is the flu, or influenza to give it the full correct name? Influenza is a viral disease that usually strikes – in the Northern Hemisphere – between October and May, and is passed from one person to another through the air.

The standard symptoms are aching muscles and joints, headaches, cough, and fever with a temperature of between 38 C to 40 C (100 F to 104 F). Occasionally, there can be complications leading to pneumonia, nerve and brain damage, and even death, but this is very rare.

Flu is a viral infection so it cannot be treated with antibiotics. The best remedy is rest, while drinking plenty of fluids. It is advisable for the elderly, and other people who are at increased risk of experiencing complications, to get vaccinated before the flu season starts.

To help you to identify whether or not you actually have the flu, here is a list of the main symptoms:
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • Chest pains
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • A runny nose and sore throat
  • Dry cough
  • Restless sleep
  • Chills and shivering
  • Indigestion
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
What can you do to help cope with the symptoms?
  • Step up your fluid intake
  • Rest, preferably by staying in bed
  • Try to get plenty of sleep
  • If you have a cough, an over-the-counter cough remedy may ease your symptoms
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Paracetamol, aspirin, or Ibuprofen will reduce fever and muscle aches

There are a bewildering number of over-the-counter remedies for the flu, but all are symptom relievers only, and the amount of active ingredients in them is quite small.

You should know that there are three types of influenza:

Type A – is the most serious type with the most acute symptoms; it is also the most common.
Type B – has similar symptoms to type A, but not as serious.
Type C – is the mildest form, with symptoms similar to those of a cold.

Now that you know more about the disease, we can try to answer the question of how long will it last.

In general, the main symptoms of influenza last from three to five days.

If it goes on for more than a week, or if the symptoms are very severe, you should consult your doctor. Unfortunately, after the main effects have diminished, they are usually followed by a feeling of fatigue for two or three weeks.

So, it could be argued that the real answer to how long does the flu last can be from three days to three weeks; it all depends on the definition of “lasts.”