Mercy's Dr. Susan Besser Offers Insights Into Treating the Flu

December 20, 2017
Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea - Overlea, MD

Dr. Susan Besser, responding to a query from Reader’s Digest, answered questions concerning “The Flu—What Is It, How to Treat It?” Dr. Besser is a primary care provider specializing in Family Medicine and sees patients at Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea.

How does one catch the flu? 
Influenza (the flu) is a respiratory viral infection. It is spread when someone who is infected with the virus "shares" the virus by coughing, sneezing or talking. That releases the virus into the air so another person can inhale viral particles and become infected.

How long is the incubation period from first exposure?

Incubation period is about a week (usually about 5 days)

If exposed to the flu, will you definitely get it?


No, exposure to the flu will not definitely cause you to become ill. Some people have natural immunity to the virus, by having a previous infection (with the same virus). 

What the first sign of flu? 

Symptoms of the flu are very similar to those of a cold, with runny nose, cough, chills, fever, headache and body aches. With the flu, as opposed to a cold, the symptoms with the flu are more intense, the fever is usually higher and the body aches are more intense. Additionally, gastrointestinal symptoms can happen with the flu, like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Gastrointestinal symptoms are not common in persons with a cold. 

How long does each major symptom last?

Symptom duration is about a week but the most intense period is in the first few days.

The respiratory symptoms last the longest with the cough lasting up to ten days (even after the rest of the symptoms have resolved). The gastrointestinal symptoms, if present are the first to leave usually in about two to three days. The fatigue, headache, and body aches last about a week. Please remember, these times are approximate; everybody reacts differently. Thus, some patients may recover more quickly than others. Also, if a person has an underlying illness (such as emphysema or other chronic illness), that person may take longer to recover. 

How long until you can return to work?

You can return to work after you have been fever-free (without using medications to lower your fever) for 24 hours. 

How long until all lingering fatigue and other lingering symptoms are gone?

Symptoms can linger for up to ten days. 

Is it a good idea to get a flu shot, even if the flu shot may make you feel not so good for a day or so? 

Yes, it is absolutely a good idea to get a flu shot- not just to keep you from getting the flu. You are also helping to prevent the spread of influenza (so there won't be an epidemic).

By the way, you CAN NOT get the flu from the flu shot- its an inactive form of the virus so it can't make you sick. (The reason people get sick after a flu shot is coincidence- remember, in addition to the flu, cold viruses are usually active at the same time, so if you get symptoms, its likely due to a cold). 

Susan L. Besser MD, MBA, FAAFP, CIME, Diplomate American Board of Obesity Medicine, Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea


Dan Collins - Senior Director of Media Relations at Mercy Medical Center

Dan Collins, Senior Director of Media Relations

Email: dcollins@mdmercy.com Office: 410-332-9714 Cell: 410-375-7342

About Mercy

Founded in 1874, Mercy Medical Center is a university-affiliated medical facility named one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. by Thomson-Reuters with a national reputation for women’s health. Mercy is home to the nationally acclaimed Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine as well as the $400+ million, 20-story Mary Catherine Bunting Center. For more information visit Mercy online at www.mdmercy.com, Facebook, Twitter or call 1-800-MD-MERCY.

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