What is the best way to get through this flu season? Two simple actions will protect you from the virus: Get your flu vaccine and wash your hands.
Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu. Since most seasonal flu activity occurs between October and May, get vaccinated now if you haven't already.
After the vaccine, your best line of defense is to frequently wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner, when hand washing isn't an option. Influenza viruses infect the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs). They are contained in droplets from the nose and throat, which are spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing. You can also get the disease by touching something with flu virus on it and then touching your mouth or nose.
While flu symptoms can mimic the common cold, they are usually more severe – a fever of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, severe body ache and muscle pain, dry cough and fatigue. Some people may also experience stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
If you think you're coming down with the flu, contact your primary care provider to discuss anti-viral medicines such as Tamiflu. When taken within 24 to 48 hours of getting sick, these drugs can alleviate flu symptoms and speed recovery.
The flu usually goes away in five to seven days with home treatment, although fatigue may last longer. Stay home until your fever is gone for at least 24 hours (without using of fever-reducing medicine) to avoid spreading the flu. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. No tissue? Cough into the crook of your elbow instead of your hands. If you must go out, wear a facemask to help prevent giving the virus to others.
Home remedies can provide symptom relief and help you feel better:
- Take ibuprofen (brand names include Motrin and Advil) or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Aleve) for relief from fever and body aches. If these drugs cause stomach problems, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an alternative. And don't give aspirin to children or teens because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal disease.
- Drink plenty of fluids (at least 16 oz. four times daily) to prevent dehydration. Gatorade and other sports drinks help to support rehydration, replenish electrolytes and other nutrients such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, and prevent muscle cramping.
- Use over-the-counter cough syrups and drops. If the cough persists, check with your healthcare provider. People with lung disease or asthma should contact their healthcare provider immediately regarding flu-related coughs to check for possible breathing complications.
- Listen to your body and get plenty of rest. There is no need to feel guilty about staying all day in bed when you're sick with the flu.
To schedule an appointment for a flu vaccination at your UW Medicine Neighborhood Clinic, call 855.520.5151.