How to recognize the flu

Last Modified: 9/21/2020


Flu season has arrived, and won’t really slow down until spring. While many of us think we know how to recognize the common condition, it might not be what you think. Tony GiaQuinta, MD, PPG – Pediatrics, shares the telltale signs for the dangerous virus.  

The cause

The flu is actually a very specific diagnosis caused by the influenza virus. A variety of viruses cause us to get sick, but influenza is particularly dangerous because the symptoms are more severe than the common cold or “stomach bug” we see from season to season.

The symptoms

The flu is like the common cold on steroids. The fever is higher and lasts longer, and the symptoms are generally more severe. Patients might experience body aches, chills, vomiting and feeling very, very rundown and weak. The influenza virus restricts us from our everyday routine, typically keeping us down for 2–3 days or longer.

People often mistake different viruses, bringing symptoms like stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting, as the flu when they are not. What sets the flu apart is the severe fever, chills and muscle aches, among other intense symptoms.

Medical attention  

Whenever you have a fever for more than 2–3 days, signs of dehydration, trouble keeping food or liquids down, decreased urine output, respiratory difficulty (breathing harder and faster than usual or having trouble breathing), seek medication attention.

Treatment starts with a lot of rest and fluids to combat dehydration. There is a medication, Tamiflu®, that, if given within the first 24 hours of the flu, can ease symptoms up to 24 hours sooner. That day can mean the difference between staying hydrated and coming in for further treatment. There is no cure for the flu, so it’s very important to protect and prevent.


You can protect yourself by staying healthy. This means getting plenty of rest, lots of exercise and consuming a healthy diet. You can also prevent the flu by washing your hands frequently and getting a flu shot.  

There is some debate over the flu shot. Every year, scientists do their best to predict which strain will be most prevalent, and sometimes they’re more accurate than others. Last year, coverage was 50 percent. But I tell my patients, some protection is better than none. Patients worry about side effects as well, but again, a little bit of muscle soreness from the injection is nothing compared to the actual flu virus.

FirstCare, physician or ER?

I encourage patients to see their primary medical provider. They know you best, including your medications and medical history. Your doctor can give you the most accurate guidance for treatment, based on that relationship. If your physician is not available, use FirstCare. Try to avoid the Emergency Department, if possible.  

The danger

The complications from the flu are severe and can be life-threatening. Patients are often admitted to the hospital with influenza because of dehydration. In fact, the flu is responsible for about 400,000 hospital visits a year. The other major complication is respiratory pneumonia, which kills about 20,000 adults each year. It’s also deadly in the pediatric population, which we generally consider healthy, killing approximately one hundred kids each year. It’s important to protect your entire family. 


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