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Is Influenza Contagious?

Is Influenza Contagious?

Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Flu is highly contagious and is normally spread by the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. Although very unpleasant, flu is rarely life-threatening. You can also catch flu by touching an infected person by shaking hands for example. Adults are contagious 1-2 days before getting symptoms and up to 7 days after becoming ill. This means that you can spread the influenza virus before you even know you are infected. Here is more on the symptoms of flu, how it is treated, how it differs from a cold, and the best ways to prevent flu occurring.

Signs and symptoms

Seasonal influenza is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise, sore throat and a runny nose. The cough can be severe and can last 2 or more weeks. Most people recover from fever and other symptoms within a week without requiring medical attention. But influenza can cause severe illness or death especially in people at high risk.

Illnesses range from mild to severe and even death in some cases. Hospitalization and death occur mainly among high risk groups. Worldwide, these annual epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 deaths. The effects of seasonal influenza epidemics in developing countries are not fully known, but research estimates that 99% of deaths in children under 5 years of age with influenza related lower respiratory tract infections are found in developing countries.


There are many different strains of the flu virus, and they mutate often. This is why people continue to come down with the flu year after year. The flu is a very contagious illness that spreads easily. Coughs and sneezes are strong enough to transmit droplets from the mouth and nose. You can also get the flu through personal contact, saliva, and by touching contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs or faucets. When someone else breathes in those respiratory droplets or touches any contaminated object and then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes, the virus spreads. A person is contagious with the flu from one day before symptoms appear to up to five days after becoming sick.


As flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics cannot help, unless the flu has led to another illness caused by bacteria. Antivirals, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, may be prescribed in some circumstances. Painkillers can alleviate some of the symptoms, such as headache and body pains. Various painkillers are available to purchase online. It is important to compare different products, and only take them under the advice of a medical professional. Some painkillers, such as aspirin, should not be given to children under 12.

Individuals with flu should:

  • stay at home
  • avoid contact with other people where possible
  • keep warm and rest
  • consume plenty of liquids
  • avoid alcohol
  • stop smoking

The most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination. Safe and effective vaccines are available and have been used for more than 60 years. Immunity from vaccination wanes over time so annual vaccination is recommended to protect against influenza. Injected inactivated influenza vaccines are most commonly used throughout the world.