So you’ve caught a virus and you’re feeling sick. It feels like the flu. What do you do now to recover and avoid infecting others?
- First make sure you actually have the flu, not a cold. How can you tell the difference? Symptoms of the flu can vary from person to person, but they usually include fever (temperature higher than 100ºF or 37.8ºC), headache and muscle aches, fatigue, cough, and can sometimes include typical cold-like symptoms like a runny nose and sore throat. The fever can last between two and five days, whereas with a cold, you usually don’t get a fever, and even if you do, it usually goes away in 24 to 48 hours. Generally, flu symptoms get better over two to five days but the illness can last for a week or more.
- Know when to see your doctor. Some people with the flu may get better on their own in one to two weeks. However, if you experience any of the following; difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, pressure or pain in your chest or stomach, dizziness or confusion, or severe vomiting, you should see a doctor immediately. This also goes for those who are at high risk for flu complications (i.e. young children, seniors, pregnant women, diabetics, asthmatics, and others). In some cases, the doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication since antibiotics don’t work for the flu. If you really need an antiviral medication, it’s best started within 48 hours of the onset of your flu symptoms, so make sure you see a doctor right away.
- Stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. So you confirmed it’s the flu. Perhaps you saw your doctor and you might have even gotten a prescription medication. Now just stay home and rest. Keep drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration. Make sure you don’t go back to school or work until your fever is gone for at least 24 hours without the need for any fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen. However, if you’re still in pain and have a fever, you can keep taking it as recommended by your pharmacist or doctor.
- Speak to your pharmacist about over-the-counter medications that may help relieve symptoms. Your pharmacist can help identify products such as lozenges to help soothe a sore throat, pain or fever relievers, or saline drops/sprays for stuffy noses. Additionally, before using any herbal, homeopathic, or other alternative treatment marketed for influenza, speak to your pharmacist to find out if it is right for you.
- Prevention is the key to avoid spreading it to others and catching it again in the future. Wash your hands with soap and water often. Keep a distance from those around you when you’re sick and cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Don’t forget to get your flu shot when you’re all better if you haven’t gotten it already this year!