Skip to main content
King County logo

Flu illness and when to see a doctor

Influenza or "flu" can feel miserable and may require you to stay home for days. But most healthy children and non-elderly adults will get better with rest at home and plenty of fluids. Symptoms of flu include cough, sore throat, sneezing, fever, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, chills, tiredness, diarrhea, and vomiting.

If you have concerns about whether you have the flu, talk to your doctor or health care provider. Call your health care provider if you can answer "yes" to any of the following:

  • Do you have long term health problems (such as diabetes, asthma, neurological disease, heart or lung problems) and have fever plus either cough or sore throat?
  • Are you pregnant or have you recently given birth?
  • Do your symptoms seem more severe than when you've been sick before?
  • Have you been sicker longer than usual, getting worse after you had started to get better?

If you are an otherwise healthy person with mild symptoms, there's usually no need to see your doctor – it is better to stay home and take care of yourself. Also, don't go to your doctor for notes to excuse absences from work or school, because those take up time that might be needed by people with serious health problems.

Higher risk groups

Flu can be serious for babies and children under two years of age, pregnant women, the elderly (generally persons 65 years of age and older), and many people who have long-term health problems such as diabetes, asthma, neurological diseases, heart or lung problems, weakened immune systems, and possibly obesity.

These people are more likely to become seriously ill and should call their doctor promptly if they develop flu symptoms. In some instances, flu can lead to hospitalization and even death.

If you are in one of the higher risk groups, doctors can prescribe anti-viral medicine to prevent severe illness. The medicine works best if given within 48 hours of getting sick. In some situations, these medicines can be given to high-risk people before they become sick so they don't get the flu. If you are in a high-risk group, talk with your doctor to learn more about options.

Protect against flu

Flu vaccination is the single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu. Health experts recommend flu vaccine for all people 6 months and older, and especially for pregnant women and high-risk persons. Make sure everyone who lives with or cares for a baby younger than 6 months gets vaccinated to protect the baby from getting flu.

You can also take these everyday steps to protect against the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand cleaners.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching these areas spreads germs.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Help stop the spread of flu, especially to people in high-risk groups:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with your sleeve or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home from work and school if you are sick until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone and avoid close contact with others.

How to get flu vaccine

Flu vaccine is available at many healthcare provider offices and pharmacies. You can use HealthMap Vaccine Finder to help locate it near you.