incubation period for flu

Influenza is a viral infection that affects your throat, nose and lungs. Commonly called the flu, influenza isn't the same as stomach flu viruses that produce symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Most people recover from influenza on their own, but in some cases, it can lead to certain complications with life-threatening consequences. About 16 to 63 million people get influenza every year in the United States. Keep reading to learn more about flu and how it affects us.

How Long Is the Incubation Period for Flu?

You don't experience symptoms the moment you've been exposed to the flu virus. The time between the exposure to the virus and the symptoms to appear is called the incubation period. The normal incubation period for flu is about 3-5 days. After the incubation period, you start displaying symptoms and excreting enough viruses to infect people around you. It will start with a mild headache, but the next day, you will have a few aches with a low fever. It will turn into a high fever on the third day with a runny nose.

How Long Is the Contagious Period for Flu?

Once you know the incubation period for flu, you may want to know about the duration for which you will stay contagious.

  • Most adults will be contagious for a week or so.
  • Adults with compromised immune systems, such as people with AIDs, may continue to shed the virus for weeks or even months after they've become infected for the first time.
  • The contagious period for young children is longer. Your 2-year old may stay contagious for 10-14 days and may even experience diarrhea with the flu.

How Is Flu Transmitted?

Flu is very easy to spread, which is why so many people get it each year. But how exactly is flu transmitted?

  • Oral secretions are the most common way of spreading the flu virus. When you breathe or cough, the tiny droplets you secrete will be spread in the air. If others inhale them, they will get infected.
  • These droplets can get into others' nose or eyes and may stay on the surface you've touched and infect others who touch that surface and then touch their mouth or nose with the same hand.
  • In order to pass the virus, two persons have to be at an arm's distance. It spreads quickly in settings like airplanes, hospitals and schools where many people are in the same area.
  • It is possible to become infected by sharing glasses, cups and other personal objects with someone who has the flu.

To avoid becoming infected, it is important to wash your hands immediately after you shake hands with someone who is sneezing or coughing.

How Do I Know I Get Flu?

After the incubation period for flu, you will experience certain typical symptoms of flu that help your healthcare provider confirm that you have the flu. It is important, though, to understand the difference between a common cold and the flu.

A common cold will develop slowly, but the flue will come on suddenly. Even though the symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose and sore threat are the same in both common cold and the flu, but there are some other symptoms associated with the flue, including:

  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fever high than 100°F
  • Sore throat
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Aching muscles, especially in your arms, back and legs

Note: It is possible to treat yourself at home when you get the flu. However, you should go see your doctor if you are at risk of complications. It is a good idea to take antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours of noticing symptoms to recover quickly.

How to Deal With Flu

After the incubation period for flu, you will suffer from the flu and get others infected. So it is important to get it treated with home remedies and medications.

Home Remedies for Flu

  • Drink plenty of liquids, such as juices, water and warm soups to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Take plenty of rest to help your immune system clear the infection.
  • Take OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to alleviate the achiness associated with the flu. Young children should not have aspirin because it increases the risk of Rey's syndrome.

Medication for Flu

You may have to use antiviral medication such as zanamivir or oseltamivir. You have to inhale zanamivir through a device, while oseltamivir is to be taken orally. Never take zanamivir if you have certain respiratory problems such as lung disease or asthma. These medications may produce some side effects such as vomiting and nausea. Taking these drugs with food may help reduce these side effects.

Stop the Spread of Flu

It is better to protect yourself from the flu virus by taking your flu vaccination every year. Your vaccine will protect you from 3-4 types of influenza viruses that are expected to be around you during that year's flu season. The vaccine is available as a nasal spray and as an injection.

The vaccine helps, but doesn't offer 100% protection. So, be sure to wash your hands frequently, especially after meeting someone who has signs of infection. Avoid spending too much time in crowded places during the flu season to avoid getting infected. If you're infected, don't spread the flu: just stay at home or cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. 

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