Flu Symptoms During the Summer: The Truth Behind 'Summer Flu'

The flu is a viral infection that causes symptoms in the respiratory tract and is caused by the influenza virus. The infection is highly contagious and infects anywhere between 5 and 15% of the entire American population each year. However, if the question you’re looking for an answer to is can you get the flu in the summer, then the response is that it’s not that likely.

Flu in the summer is not common despite the Centers for Disease Control has detected the flu virus throughout the year. The virus is more effective in the fall and winter months, a period that’s also referred to as flu season. The dry air, lower temperatures, and people huddling up together indoors due to the weather are all contributing factors to the higher activity of the flu virus in the later and early months of the year.  

Flu in The Summer

According to several experts, the probability of contracting the flu in the summer is not quite as much as its likelihood between October and February. The cases of the flu begin spiking in the fall months and begin peaking between January and February. The virus makes use of the low humidity environment and the lower temperatures that cause increased susceptibility to the infection.

Despite the virus being active throughout the year, the summer months between May and September see far lesser cases when compared to the traditional flu season. So despite being less probable, summer flu is still a likelihood, albeit a rare one.

flu in the summer

Symptoms of Flu & Flu-like Conditions

Flu onset is sudden and mainly affects your nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough 
  • Persistent Sneezing 
  • Headache and body ache
  • Nause and vomiting 
  • Diarrhea  
  • Fever and malaise 
  • Sore throat 
  • Chest pain (in severe cases)
  • Exhaustion and fatigue 

These symptoms are common to several diseases, and showcasing these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve contracted the flu. We discuss several potential conditions apart from the flu in the upcoming section to help you understand your symptoms better.

Potential Causes of Summer Flu Symptoms

Some of the symptoms you’re experiencing might be indicative of other diseases like: 

  • Common Cold  

This condition is by far the most prevalent viral infection. Rhinoviruses are the causative agents of the common cold and these viruses are active throughout the year and cause flu-like symptoms in human beings. Some of the symptoms of the common cold are:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing 
  • Sore throat 
  • Stuffy nose 
  • Weakness & body aches 

Symptoms like fever, chest pain & discomfort, and cough are rare and not commonly found in cases of cold. If your symptoms are mild, then it’s quite likely that your summer flu symptoms are just the common cold. 

  • Strep Throat

This is a condition that predominantly affects the tonsils. The disease is caused by a bacteria called streptococcus. The bacteria is found commonly on the skin, nose, mouth, and throat, and they’re not inherently harmful. However, in children, people with increased susceptibility to disease, and individuals with reduced immunity, a higher rate of bacterial growth can lead to inflamed tonsils and associated symptoms such as:

  • Pain and swelling in the throat 
  • Fever 
  • Fatigue & chills 
  • Red spots on the palate 
  • Swollen tonsils with red and white patches 
  • Difficulty in swallowing food and water

Strep throat has a few common symptoms with the flu, leading you to believe it to be flu in the summer. 

can you get the flu in the summer

  • COVID-19

The COVID-19 infection has several symptoms that resemble the flu, and the disease has been shown to remain active throughout the year. Individuals that have been exposed to the SARS-nCoV-2 virus contract the disease and show several flu-like symptoms that include: 

  • Fever & malaise 
  • Exhaustion & fatigue 
  • Headache 
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Chills
  • Nausea & vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Cough (often dry)
  • Chest pain 
  • Discomfort in breathing
  • A loss of smell & taste 

COVID-19 is an emerging infectious disease due to the ongoing pandemic. If you’re showcasing any of the above symptoms, it would be wise to get tested and seek medical attention. 

  • Infectious Mononucleosis

This condition is most commonly observed in young adults and teenagers. The condition however is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and not the Influenza virus. Mono as it is colloquially referred to can share several overlapping symptoms with the flu, leading you to misidentify it as summer flu. The common symptoms of mono are: 

  • Fever 
  • Fatigue & exhaustion 
  • Runny nose 
  • Sore throat 
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck 
  • Headache 

The inoculation period for mono takes anywhere between four and six weeks after exposure. The symptoms however can last for even months. Reach out to a physician and seek assistance if you believe your symptoms align with those of Mononucleosis. 

  • Bronchitis

This condition is characterized by an inflammation in the bronchi- tubular structures that branch out further into the lungs. The cause of this inflammation can be a variety of agents including bacteria, viruses (including the flu virus), fungi, parasites, dust, and other potential allergens. Symptoms of bronchitis can overlap with summer flu symptoms, they include: 

  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Fatigue & exhaustion 
  • Productive cough 
  • Difficulty in breathing 
  • Discomfort in the chest 
  • Shortness of breath 

Bronchitis can be a potentially dangerous condition, and we advise you to consult your physician if you experience any of the above symptoms. 

  • Pneumonia

This is a condition, that like bronchitis, can also be perpetrated by the flu virus itself. Pneumonia entails an infection of the lung caused by factors like bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and even environmental factors like dust, toxins, and pollutants. Pneumonia has several common symptoms with the flu that are  as follows: 

  • Fever & malaise 
  • Fatigue & exhaustion 
  • Chills & rigors 
  • Productive cough
  • Severe chest pain
  • Chest discomfort 
  • Difficulty in breathing 

Summer flu or not, pneumonia is a serious condition that can be caused by both - the complications of the flu or COVID-19. None of these symptoms are to be ignored and warrant immediate medical attention.

  • Food Poisoning & Gastroenteritis

Food poisoning is a condition that is caused by contaminated food containing bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens and their toxins. Most of the condition’s symptoms are limited to the gastrointestinal tract and do not involve the respiratory system. Gastroenteritis similarly presents with symptoms restricted to the gastric and intestinal systems and is also caused by viruses like rotavirus. The condition is commonly referred to as the stomach flu, however, it has little to do with conventional influenza. The symptoms of both conditions include: 

  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Body ache & fatigue 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Abdominal cramps 
  • Vomiting 

The symptoms often set in a few hours or days following consumption of contaminated food and can last up to a couple of weeks. 

summer flu symptoms

  • Insect-borne Diseases

Though flu in the summer isn’t all that common, certain insect-borne diseases that mimic symptoms of the flu can be cause for serious concern. Diseases such as Lyme disease (carried by ticks) and West Nile virus (carried by mosquitos) are prevalent in the summer, and people spending their time outdoors are at an elevated risk. While Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium, West Nile virus is a viral infection. Both diseases have initial symptoms that have much in common with flu-like symptoms and can be mistaken for summer flu. Some of these symptoms are:

  • Fever 
  • Body ache & malaise 
  • Chills 
  • Headache, exhaustion, and fatigue 

The symptoms can progress and result in red, bull’s eye rashes as in the case of Lyme disease and lead to symptoms like stupor, stiff neck, and even coma in cases of West Nile virus.

If you’re prone to spend a lot of time outside in the summer, or live in areas that are populated with cattle or game prone to tick infestations, or marshy areas with an abundance of mosquitoes, and are facing symptoms similar to the flu, be sure to visit a doctor without delay. 

The flu is not as prevalent in the summers as much as it is in the colder parts of the year, however, it is best to make regular trips to the doctor to avoid taking any chances. You could also take measures like taking the flu shot regularly to prevent contracting the disease.

If you do have the summer flu, there’s no reason to fret. Make sure you remain in touch with your physician and follow all of their suggestions so you can return to perfect health at ease and without complications.