The Flu

Centra Health

Home > Services > Emergency Care > The Flu

The Flu

Influenza (flu) is caused by the influenza virus. Flu happens every year and is more common in the fall and winter. People of all ages can get the flu, from babies and young adults to the elderly.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of influenza include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Feeling weak or more tired
  • Headache
  • Chills and body aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

 Not everyone with the flu will have the same signs and symptoms.

How Does The Flu Virus Spread?

People that have the flu virus can spread it by coughing or sneezing.  The flu virus also can be spread by touching your mouth or nose after touching something with the virus on it, such as a doorknob, table, shopping cart or hand.

How Long Can A Person With The Flu Spread The Virus To Other People?

 Typically, the flu can be spread from one day before a person shows symptoms of the flu to seven days after symptoms begin.

What Can I Do To Prevent The Spread Of The Flu Virus?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following actions to help prevent the spread of the flu virus:

  • Get the flu shot.
  • Stay away from people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol based hand rub.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your symptoms are gone.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your arm when coughing or sneezing.

Is There A Test For The Flu Virus?

Yes, but it is frequently inaccurate. During the flu season, the flu is often diagnosed by only symptoms.  The emergency department is not routinely performing flu tests.

What Is The Treatment For The Flu?

Most people who have the flu get better without seeing a doctor or taking medicine. Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu or Relenza may be prescribed by your doctor to treat people who have serious underlying illness or may need hospitalization.

Is it a cold or the flu?

Is it a cold or the flu?
Is it a cold or the flu?

What is the difference?

Influenza ("Flu") and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. These two illnesses have similar symptoms. However, the flu is different from a cold. In general, influenza is worse than the common cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms: Fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches and extreme fatigue (tiredness). Vomiting and diarrhea are more common in children than adults.


Just like pain, fever is one of the most common reasons children will visit the Emergency Department. Normal body temperature is between 98.6 degrees F and 100.3 degrees F. Treating the fever will usually help your child feel better and will make your child more likely to play and act normally. Children who feel well are also more willing to drink fluids and eat a regular diet. Encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids because a fever causes the body to lose fluids quickly.


The body uses fever to fight infection. It is NORMAL to have a fever when you are sick. Many people think that a fever is harmful. THIS IS NOT TRUE! There is no such thing as a fever that is too high! It is common for children to have fevers of 104 or 105 when they are ill. Most infections are caused by viruses and will pass with time.

What Can Be Done?

It is okay to use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). It is NOT recommended to use ibuprofen in children less than 6 months of age. NEVER GIVE YOUR CHILD ASPIRIN FOR A FEVER.
* In the Emergency Department, we will medicate your child if they have a temperature of 101 degrees F or higher.


In the emergency department, we will do several things to help relieve your child's asthma symptoms. First, we might give your child a steroid medication. We may also give your child a breathing treatment. Usually, these medicines will help your child feel better and they will be able to go home. Prescriptions will often be given for medicines like those given during their ED visit. Less often, your child's asthma attack may be more serious and we may have to admit them to the hospital for further treatment

Signs and Symptoms

  • Frequent coughing, often worse at night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest congestion or tightness
  • Chest pain, particularly in younger children
  • A whistling or wheezing sound when breathing


Steroid Medication

Examples are prednisone and prapred. These mediations will help lessen the symptoms of wheezing or coughing that your child is experiencing. It may take hours for the steroid medicine to begin working.

Breathing Treatment

The breathing treatment will carry medicine to your child's lungs. This will help ease the tightness more quickly.

Vomiting/Diarrhea & Dehydration

Vomiting and diarrhea is often called "the stomach flu" or gastroenteritis. It can lead to dehydration. It is important to keep your child hydrated. Dehydration can occur when the body is low on fluids. Watch for signs of dehydration: dry mouth/lips, no tears when crying, no urine for 6 hours or more. Try to feed your child his/her regular diet. If your child is not able to eat regular food/formula, give plenty of fluids to drink.

What To Do

Begin by giving fluids VERY SLOWLY, especillay if your child is still vomiting. Give 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of fluid every 1-2 minutes. Use a spoon or syringe instead of a bottle, Sippy-cup, or straw. If your child does not vomit after 1 hour of taking fluids slowly, you can increase to 3 teaspoons every minute. If your child continues to vomit the extra fluid, slow down.


Fluids include: breast milk, formula, milk, water, Pedialyte, Gatorade, popsicles, and soup. Avoid soda and drinks with caffeine. Drinks with a lot of sugar, like apple and pear juice, can make diarrhea worse. Avoid giving large amounts of plain water as this can cause other problems.


Bronchiolitis is an illness that is caused by a virus that affects the lungs. RSV is just one of the many types of viruses that cause bronchiolitis. The symptoms of runny nose, fever, wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath might be seen in your child, and are often worse in children under 6 months.

Compared to asthmatics, children who have bronchiolitis do not respond as well to medicines like steroids and breathing treatments. Antibiotics will not help either. It will take time, often up to 2 weeks for the symptoms to go away. Most children do very well with bronchiolitis and can go home. However, very young children can develop more severe symptoms and may have to be admitted to the hospital.


Some infections are caused by bacteria. These infections can be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, so patients diagnosed with a viral illness will not get an antibiotic prescription. Your doctor will discuss treatment options available on an individualized basis.

Poison Center: 1.800.222.1222
Center for Disease Control:
Virginia Health Department: