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The flu causes muscle and joint pain, high fever, chills, fatigue and weakness that usually send the afflicted straight to bed for three to five days or longer. Afterwards, your cough and tiredness may persist for days or even weeks. Other symptoms include headache, eye pain, and sometimes a stuffy nose and sore throat. Upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea are rarely major features of the flu. While there is such a thing as a "stomach flu," it is not caused by the influenza virus. Most people with stomach flu are infected with one of the many gastroenteritis viruses that cause temporary nausea and vomiting.
If you've been in contact with someone who has the flu and you begin to experience these symptoms, chances are you have caught the flu. Only your health care professional can diagnose your symptoms accurately, so it's important to call for an appointment as soon as your symptoms develop -- and they do come on suddenly in just a few hours, once you've been exposed to the virus.
Getting medical attention and an accurate diagnosis quickly are your best bet for getting back on your feet as soon as possible. Also, to be effective, the new antiviral medications for flu must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, also requiring an early diagnosis.
During flu season, health care professionals stay aware of influenza activity in your area through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) surveillance network, which is available on the World Wide Web and through printed publications mailed to medical offices. These updates can help your health care team diagnose flu symptoms. In addition, your health care professional will evaluate your symptoms to rule out other illnesses, like a cold (a viral infection with similar symptoms).