What to Do When It's NOT The Flu: Treating A Flu-Like Illness

January 2, 2019
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People often use the term “flu” to describe any illness that causes many of the same symptoms of flu. But they may actually have what’s called a “flu-like illness.” A flu-like illness causes many of the same symptoms as the flu but is caused by something other than the flu virus.
So, how can you tell if what you have is the flu and what can you do to feel better? Here’s what you need to know…

Flu and flu-like illnesses share many of the same symptoms.

Symptoms of the flu include congestion, cough, headache, body aches, fatigue, fever and chills. But even if you have all of these symptoms, it’s still not certain that you have the flu. These symptoms are common to many other illnesses as well and it can be difficult to tell which you have.
Some illnesses with these symptoms can be treated at home. But others can require medical attention and sometimes medication. So if you experience these symptoms, especially if they come on quickly and are severe, you should seek care right away. The providers at PhysicianOne Urgent Care centers can help to determine if what you have is the flu or something else and provide the appropriate treatment so you can feel better faster. (To be seen even faster, you can check in online to any PhysicianOne Urgent Care Center in Connecticut, Massachusetts or New York).

These are some of the more common flu-like illnesses.

Conditions that can feel like the flu but aren’t include:

Antiviral medication can sometimes treat the flu, but not a flu-like illness.

There are antiviral medications that can lessen the severity and duration of symptoms caused by the influenza virus. However they’re usually only beneficial if taken within the first 48 hours of experiencing symptoms. There are no such medications for the viruses that cause flu-like illnesses. If you have a virus that is not influenza or if you have the influenza virus but have already been sick for several days then treatment is aimed at easing symptoms.

Antibiotics cannot treat any virus, including the flu – but they can treat some flu-like illnesses caused by bacteria.

It’s a common misconception that antibiotics will be helpful in treating any illness, but it’s simply not the case. Antibiotics are not effective against an illness caused by a virus, only those caused by bacteria. This means that antibiotics will be useless in treating influenza, the common cold, or any other flu-like illness that’s caused by a virus. However, if your flu-like illness turns out to be a condition that’s caused by bacteria – such as strep throat and some types of pneumonia – antibiotics may be necessary to treat the infection.

Here’s how to treat flu-like illnesses caused by a virus.

Though there are no medications available to treat a viral flu-like illness, there are over-the-counter medications and other methods that can help to ease your symptoms. (These can also be used to ease symptoms of influenza as well, whether you’re on an antiviral medication or not.) They include:

  • A combination cold medication can help to relieve many of the symptoms of colds and other flu-like illnesses, including fever, cough and congestion.
  • Steam from a humidifier or shower can also be helpful in relieving a stuffy nose and soothing achy muscles.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated; viruses can quickly cause dehydration.
  • Get plenty of rest – your body needs it to fight off the virus or infection.

Here's when to seek medical care.

If you come down with flu-like symptoms it is important to visit a PhysicianOne Urgent Care center within the first day or two so that you can receive antiviral medication if it is indeed the flu. We can provide a rapid flu test to confirm if what you're suffering from is the flu. The test has a 50% - 80% accuracy rate, however, so we will also use our clinical judgement to determine your diagnosis. We will then provide the best course of treatment based on your symptoms and the results of your exam.
It is important to note a person with flu-like symptoms who is under age 2 or over 65 or who has an underlying medical condition should always get medical care as soon as possible. These people are more likely to develop complications from their illness, whether it’s influenza or not, so proper medical evaluation and supervision is important.

Related Resources
Flu, Common Cold, and Sore Throat Treatment
Do I Need an Antibiotic?
Flu Shot 2018: What You Need to Know
How to Remain Germ Free
What is the Common Cold?

Understanding Influenza: When Is the Flu No Longer Contagious?

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