Can You Get the Flu in the Summer?

Woman with flu lying in bed
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Most everyone has heard the term flu season—in the United States, it's in the fall and winter—but many people have also experienced symptoms they thought were caused by the flu during other times of the year as well. So, what's the deal? Can you really get influenza, or the flu, during the summer or any other time that isn't technically flu season?

Could It Really Be the Flu?

The short answer to this question is yes—you can get influenza any time of year.

However, although it is possible to get the flu during the spring or summer, it is extremely unlikely. Most people who think they have the flu actually have any number of other viruses—not influenza. The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused specifically by influenza viruses.

Stomach Flu

The illness that is most often incorrectly referred to as "the flu" is gastroenteritis (also inaccurately called the "stomach flu"). Gastroenteritis is common year round. It causes vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and leaves you feeling horrible for a few days. But it is not related to influenza (the actual flu) in any way. It is caused by a different virus and has different symptoms.

Flu-Like Illnesses

Another possibility when you have flu symptoms and it isn't flu season is that you have a flu-like illness. This means that you have a viral illness that causes symptoms similar to those of the flu, but it isn't caused by influenza.

Flu-like illnesses can make you miserable, but they are less likely to cause severe symptoms and complications than influenza.

On the remote possibility that you actually are diagnosed with influenza outside of flu season, there are things you need to know about this virus as well.

Influenza Symptoms

Symptoms of influenza include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Congestion
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (in some people, typically children) 

Duration and Contagiousness of the Flu

If you suspect that you have the flu, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. You may need to be seen to get tested so your doctor can determine if your symptoms are caused by influenza or something else. If you do have the flu, it will likely take between three days and two weeks to get over it. Unfortunately, you may pass the virus on before you even know you're sick and you'll remain contagious until about five to seven days after you get sick.

Potential Complications of the Flu

If you have asthma, diabetes, heart disease, are pregnant, are over the age of 65, or a younger child, you are a high risk for developing complications from the flu. However, complications can occur in healthy people of any age. Potential complications include:

  • A chronic condition that worsens, such as asthma or heart disease
  • Ear infections
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Sinus infections

Treatment for the Flu

Treatment for the flu can range from prescription antiviral medications to just waiting it out. Learn more about the options available, figure out which of them is right for you, and consider getting your flu shot next year.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). FluView: A Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report Prepared by the Influenza Division, (updated weekly).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Key Facts About Influenza (Flu), (October 3, 2017).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine, (October 6, 2017).

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