Sign In
Boston Public Health Commission Home

Getting Well: Flu Facts

What are flu symptoms?
Flu symptoms usually start one to three days after a person breathes in the germ, but sometimes it can take up to a week to get sick. People can spread flu one day before they have signs of flu until about one week after. Children with flu can spread it for a longer period of time.  Symptoms of influenza include fever, body aches, headache, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, dry cough, and extreme tiredness.

What should I do if I get the flu?
If you are feeling sick, stay home. You should stay home for 4 days after you first get sick or for 24 hours after your fever has gone away without the use of fever reducing medicines - whichever time is longer. Generally, the flu lasts 3 to 7 days, but people may feel tired for weeks. Drink plenty of fluids and get a lot of rest.  Medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin®, Nuprin® or Advil®) can be used to help relieve a fever.  Be sure to follow package directions for the age of the person taking the medicine.  Do not give aspirin to children due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome, a rare but serious illness.  Decongestants may help relieve a stuffy nose or sinus pressure in adults and older children.  Talk to your doctor if symptoms seem severe or ongoing.

When should I contact my health care provider?

Get emergency medical care if you or someone you know has flu and any of the signs below:

  • Trouble breathing or chest pain
  • Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
  • Vomiting and unable to keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as dizziness when standing, less urine, or in infants, a lack of tears when they cry
  • Seizures (for example, uncontrolled convulsions (or shakes)
  • Is less responsive than normal or becomes confused
  • Signs of flu that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash
  • Any other signs that are especially worrisome or concerning

Are there any medications that I can take?
Antiviral medicines prescribed by a doctor can be used to treat influenza, but are most often recommended for persons at high risk of developing complications from the flu.  To be most effective, these medicines should be started within 48 hours of symptom onset.  These drugs can reduce the symptoms of the flu and shorten the time you are sick by 1 to 2 days.

Caring for Someone with the Flu:
Keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible. For example, a sick person may be able to sleep in a different room or use a different bathroom than healthy people in the home. Caregivers should avoid being face to face with a sick person and clean their hands often, especially after touching objects used by the sick person (e.g. tissues, laundry) or having close contact with the sick person. If possible, avoid having a pregnant woman care for the sick person. Laundry and eating utensils do not need to be washed separately but should be washed  with soap and warm water before someone else uses them. Those who already have serious medical problems and are in close contact with the sick person should call their healthcare provider to talk about any special care they may need or medication they should take.  Caregivers should monitor themselves for any signs of the flu.

Supplies to have when caring for someone with the flu:

  • Soap or alcohol-based sanitizer for washing hands
  • Drinks, such as water and juice
  • Food that is easy to digest such as apple sauce, rice, toast, pudding, bananas, or soups
  • Extra supply of special foods, medicine, or equipment that the person usually needs
  • Cleaning supplies such as household cleaner, paper towels, and trash bags
  • Non-aspirin pain relievers such as acetaminophen (like Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (like Advil® or Motrin®)
  • Cough syrup for older children and adults
  • A digital thermometer (Glass thermometers should not be used because they can contain mercury, a toxin)

What should I do if my child is sick?

  • Keep your child home. All children with flu symptoms should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, without using fever-reducing medicine . These medicines include Motrin® or Advil® (ibuprofen), Tylenol® (acetaminophen), or a store brand. For most children, this will be at least 4 days. It is very important that your child does not go to school or other places where she could spread the flu to other people, such as group childcare, after school programs, the mall, or a sporting event.
  • If your child appears seriously ill, call your doctor’s office and let them know your child’s symptoms. Your doctor will advise you whether you should come to the office. It is best to call the office first to avoid spreading flu to others at the doctor’s office.
  • Call your child’s school to notify them that your child is sick, and tell the school nurse if your child has flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough and/or sore throat. Keep the school nurse updated on your child’s medical condition.
    Do not give your child or teenager (18 years of age or younger) aspirin or aspirin-containing products due to the risk of a rare but serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.

How do I know if my child should stay home from school?
Use the Symptom Checklist to help determine whether your child should stay home from school. Choose a link below:

 English
 Cape Verdean Creole
 Chinese
 Haitian Creole
 Portuguese
 Spanish
 Vietnamese

For printable pdf versions of Care & Treatment information, please choose a link below:

 English 
 Chinese 
 Haitian Creole 
 Portuguese 
 Spanish 
 Vietnamese

OnlineNewsRoomStyles
Boston Public Health Commission
1010 Massachusetts Ave, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02118.
Phone:(617) 534-5395 Email: info@bphc.org