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I'm a Doctor and These are the Symptoms of the Flu, Including Aches and Chills

Doctors explain what to know about this flu season and symptoms to watch out for. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Flu season is here and many states are already reporting a spike in cases, just as experts anticipated. Health officials are bracing for a nationwide surge and hospitals are feeling the stress.  According to ABC 7, California is one of the 10 states experiencing high cases and reports, "In Los Angeles County, flu rates have reached 25% — a level not seen at this time of year in the past four years, many of them are children."

"We are seeing a tremendous number of children with Influenza A," Dr. Anthony Cardillo, an emergency room specialist and CEO of Mend Urgent Care, said in an interview with ABC7. "That's because they're back in school, they're in athletics, they're doing different things, a lot of transmission is happening. "The only difference this year is this flu virus is very, very strong. It's had time to mutate. And that's what we're seeing now."

One reason for the uptick in cases is the lifting of COVID restrictions. Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician, Carbon Health and Saint Mary's Hospital tells us, "The measures to reduce the spread of COVID decreased our exposure to common viruses and bacteria which ultimately caused a weakened immune system for many people." She adds, "The flu can easily spread from person to person especially to individuals not vaccinated. When you receive the flu vaccine it can help decrease the likelihood of getting the flu or experiencing severe symptoms." Eat This, Not That! Health Spoke with doctors who explain what to know about this flu season and signs you've caught the virus. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Doctors are Concerned About this Flu Season


Sherrill Brown, M.D., Medical Director of Infection Prevention at AltaMed Health Services tells us, "The flu season is starting one to two months earlier than the typical flu season and has rapidly spread across the United States. Much of the country is now in the high or very high category for influenza-like activity. A lower proportion of the population is vaccinated for Influenza this year compared to past years increasing the chance of severe disease and death in the very young, very old, pregnant and in those with chronic medical conditions."

Dr. Eric Tam, a Primary Care Physician with Mighty Health says, "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current seasonal influenza activity is elevated across the country. In fact, an estimated 6% of healthcare visits are because of flu-like symptoms. There have been an estimated 53,000 hospitalizations because of the flu this season so far. Based on these numbers, it is quite evident how much of an impact the seasonal flu is currently having on our healthcare system."


Flu Symptoms

Woman being sick having flu sitting on bed alone at home, having high fever or temperature, touching forehead

According to Dr. Brown, "Flu symptoms typically involve abrupt onset of fatigue and malaise accompanied by fever, headache, muscle aches and cough." Dr. Curry-Winchell adds, "Some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, body aches, high fever, and cough. If your symptoms progress, or appear to be worsening, or you develop new symptoms it's important to seek medical attention immediately. "

Dr.Tam tells us, "It becomes important to recognize classic signs and symptoms of the flu as there are treatments out there. First and foremost, to protect yourself from the flu, the CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine as this is the best known method to protect yourself from getting the flu. In regards to signs and symptoms, the classic ones are fever, fatigue, body aches and headaches. In terms of respiratory symptoms, a non productive cough, sore throat and nasal congestion are all very common."

The CDC says, "Flu signs and symptoms usually come on suddenly. People who are sick with flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever*/feeling feverish or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever."


Stay Hydrated and Isolate Yourself if Sick

Close-up of pretty young woman drinking water from glass

Dr. Brown advises, " People should isolate themselves from others if they have the flu and contact their primary care provider immediately to see if they are recommended to get antiviral treatment for the flu." Dr. Tam explains, "Once diagnosed with the flu, it is imperative to stay hydrated and to treat symptoms like body aches and fever with over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and ibuprofen for symptom relief. It is okay to not be able to eat at this time due to lack of appetite, but it is extremely important you continue to stay hydrated."

The CDC states, "Most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a higher-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your healthcare provider (doctor, physician assistant, etc.).


When to Seek Medical Attention

Sick woman feeling chest pain and wearing face mask in a lobby at medical clinic.

Dr. Brown explains, "Children <2 yrs, people >65, those that are pregnant or people with chronic medical conditions should contact their medical provider to see if they should get treatment for the flu with an antiviral medication. Additionally, if your symptoms worsen and you begin having trouble breathing, new chest pain, cannot think normally, feel faint, bluish lips, or cannot keep down fluids or food, you should seek immediate medical attention. For most people without severe symptoms, over the counter cough and cold medications or fever reducing medications can be helpful to make symptoms feel better while you are recovering. It is important to discuss with your doctor what over-the-counter medications you can safely take for cough, cold and flu symptoms."

Dr. Tam says, "Although symptoms can last up to a week, there are important symptoms to keep track of to let you know if you should be seeking medical attention. The first is if your sore throat is so bad you are unable to swallow even water to stay hydrated. This should be an absolute indication to seek medical attention. Other indications are if you continue to experience high fevers, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Another differentiating factor is dependent on your current health status. If you are someone that has multiple chronic conditions, of an older age, pregnant, or immunocompromised, you should seek medical care immediately. The reason being is that there are medications such as tamiflu that have been proven to be effective in reducing duration of symptoms and reducing need for hospitalization."


The Difference Between COVID/RSV and the Flu


Dr. Brown says, "Unfortunately, the symptoms of COVID/RSV and Flu can overlap. Generally, Influenza symptoms involve more sudden fever, headache, cough, fatigue and muscle aches. Treatment to help with symptoms includes fever reducing medication, cough medication, and sometimes antiviral medications prescribed by your doctor. RSV symptoms, especially in children, can include runny nose, cough, sneezing, wheezing, fever. Little children cannot take the usual over the counter cough and cold medications so it is important to discuss with your doctor what medications would be helpful to treat RSV like symptoms in children. COVID-19 symptoms can be very mild similar to mild cold symptoms or progress all the way to difficulty breathing, headache, cough, loss of smell or taste and sore throat. Symptom based treatment may include fever reducing medication, cough medication and sometimes antiviral medication prescribed by your doctor."

Dr. Tam states, "I know this season in addition to the flu, people are also worried about COVID and RSV. RSV tends to affect mostly children and presents with substantial nasal congestion, cough and difficulty breathing. In terms of differentiating between COVID and flu, this can often be challenging as symptoms tend to overlap. The best way to find out is to either take a COVID test to rule that out or there are also tests now that can test for both at the same time."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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