Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have zero internet access (which, clearly, you don’t, if you’re reading this), you’re well aware that winter season is flu season, and this year’s strain is raging. Contrary to popular belief, this viral disease isn’t just an extreme case of the sniffles; you won’t be cured popping Claritin-D. Typically a common head cold can be done and over within a few days, but when it comes to how long the flu lasts, well, let’s just say this is one illness that’ll make you suffer anywhere from a few days up to almost two whole weeks. Break out the face masks, Kleenex, and hand sanitizer, because everyone’s at risk, and you don’t want to be next in line to catch this mess.
Personally, I think one of the biggest problems with flu season is that unless you or someone close to you has experienced the virus, people sort of get it in their heads that they’re immune to the disease, or it’s not as serious as everyone makes it out to be. But germs are everywhere, friends, and getting sick is certainly not seasonal — so why wouldn’t you be taking necessary precautions year-round? I can guarantee, the rumors are true: The flu is a very serious, sometimes even life-threatening disease that hits you hard and often sticks around for quite a while.
The flu can last anywhere from one to two weeks, depending on the patient.
Dr. Ryan Welter, family practitioner and clinical associate professor in medicine at Brown University, tells Elite Daily that influenza has a one- to four-day “incubation period,” which means even though you may have caught the virus, you may not know it right away. This is probably one of the scariest parts of the flu, because even though you’re infected, you’re not showing any symptoms, so you could potentially spread it to loved ones, classmates, co-workers, and even strangers.
Once the incubation period passes, symptoms develop quickly and, Dr. Welter adds, you can expect to feel pretty lousy for “at least three days and up to seven days.” What makes this disease even more brutal, though, is the fact that, OK, you muddle through a whole week of torture, but then you’re still contagious for an additional seven days, according to Dr. Welter. That’s a whopping total of up to 18 days infected; that’s more than half a month of sick days.
So what is it about the flu that causes it to last so freaking long?
The longest I’ve ever been sick was probably this past December, when my husband and I kept exchanging colds for three weeks straight (2017 clearly went out with a bang). But still, that wasn’t one illness; it was a combination of different things — a cough here, a congested, sleepless night there. The flu is one giant, super powerful virus that compromises basically every part of your body for weeks on end. But like, why?
According to Dr. Ian Tong, chief medical officer at Doctor On Demand, the flu is a monster all its own because it has the ability to change year to year, producing different strains that are more or less severe than seasons prior. “The duration of the flu depends mostly on your body’s preparedness to fight the infection,” he tells Elite Daily. “The bigger the change in the strain from prior years, the longer it could take your immune system to fight it off.”
How long the virus wreaks havoc on your system could also depend on whether or not you opted to get vaccinated, and how effective the shot turned out to be. If the vaccine isn't effective, Dr. Tong says, the virus will run its course, however long that may be, simply because “the immune system takes more time to recognize and fight it.”
Dr. Myles E. Gombert, M.D., F.A.C.P., chief medical officer of SentosaCare LLC in Long Island, adds that secondary complications can also be a “critical factor” in determining how long influenza will last in your body. It really all comes down to how capable the body is to fight off the virus, and how effective your prescription treatment is.
Unfortunately, once you catch the flu, you have to deal with it. But thankfully, there are some things you can do to shorten the time you have with the illness, and how miserable it all feels.
Oftentimes, if the flu doesn’t feel very flu-like, and you have even the slightest amount of energy, you’re going to be tempted to take advantage of that liveliness and do things. Do not, I repeat, do not partake in any kind of exercise routine, make plans, or even think about venturing outside your living space, let alone your bedroom. The key, Dr. Celine Thum, medical director at ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., tells Elite Daily, is to get a lot of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Over-the-counter vitamins and mineral supplements are also great to take so that your immunity increases and, in turn, symptoms start to subside. Dr. Thum recommends implementing things like vitamin C and zinc into your daily routine, and asking your doctor about prescription anti-virals that can further shorten the duration of the flu.
When it comes down to it, though, we all know right from wrong when it comes to our bodies and what they can handle. The issue is actually listening to what our insides are trying to tell us, and giving them the unique tender love and care they require and deserve. So wash your hands before every meal and after you go to the bathroom, keep a hand sanitizer at your desk, and avoid physical contact with anyone who might be even remotely sick at all costs. Your health is precious, and trust me, flu season is not the time to gamble with it.