Flu Season 2019: Symptoms, Is There a Test and How Long Are You Contagious?

flu vaccination
A woman prepares to receive a flu shot on January 22, in San Francisco. The CDC estimates that 80,000 people died of the flu during the 2017-2018 season. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The flu is making its rounds in almost every state around the country and more people are coming down with the common flu symptoms.

Even those who experience all the symptoms might still be unsure whether they experienced the flu or whether what they came down with was something else entirely with similar symptoms. Some flu symptoms can be confused with those that also come with a cold.

Symptoms like a sore throat, stuffy nose and sneezing all come with a cold and with the flu. But there are some symptoms that only come with the flu that might help those who are sick confirm that they have the flu instead of a cold.

Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly instead of slowly developing and are characterized by chills, body aches, fatigue and a headache. Sometimes those are sick can also have a cough and some people also get a fever, but not everyone with the flu will definitely have a fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It can take a few days to about a week or two for flu symptoms to clear up but there are some more serious risks associated with the flu. The risk of developing complications is higher in those who are over the age of 65 or those who have chronic medical conditions like heart disease and asthma, according to the CDC.

There are tests that can confirm whether a patient has the flu or not but for the most part doctors will diagnose patients based on their symptoms. There are tests called rapid influenza diagnostic tests that are used to detect the illness by detecting the antigens in the body that cause the immune system to kick into high gear, according to the CDC. These tests are rapid, like the name suggests but depending on the actual strain of the virus going around they can have varying success in properly identifying the flu.

Other tests called rapid molecular assays can also take 15 to 20 minutes to complete and they detect the actual genetic material of the flu virus, according to the CDC. Those who think they might have the flu should use caution as they can spread it to those around them.

Usually, they're most contagious in the first few days they're sick and symptoms usually begin a day or two after the person is exposed to the virus. Kids stay contagious for longer as do people with weak immune systems, according to the CDC.