“HELP!! I think I have the flu (influenza)! What should I do??”

woman wearing a surgical mask

Stop the spread of germs - cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Author: Dawne Buck, RN, BSN

Yes, the flu is befalling on some UMKC students.  January – February tend to be peak flu time in this area.  So it is time to be armed with information about the flu – like how I can prevent from getting it, what are the symptoms, how long do I have to miss class and/or work, should I make an appointment at Student Health and Wellness clinic, and what can I do to make myself feel better.

The most common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever (but not everyone with the flu gets a fever) or feeling feverish/chills
  • Muscle or body aches

Associated symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (very tired)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

IF you get the flu:

  • Go to bed!
  • Avoid contact with other people.
  • Drink lots of clear fluids.
  • Take your temperature.
  • If your temperature is greater than 101°F, take ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce fever and pain as directed on the bottle.
  • Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol or Advil).
  • A cool sponge bath may relieve the fever.
  • For a cough, inhale warm stream or try an over-the-counter cough suppressant.
  • For a sore throat, gargle with salt water (1/4 teaspoon salt per cup of water); suck on ice cubes or lozenges; put a cold pack against your throat; drink hot water with lemon and honey.
  • Don’t smoke!  Flu causes swelling and irritation in your lungs and windpipe and smoking makes this worse.

WHEN should I see a health care provider?

Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.  However, some people are more likely to get flu complications – like young children, people 65 and older, and people with asthma, diabetes or women who are pregnant.  They should talk to their health care provider about whether they need to be examined if they get flu symptoms.  Emergency warning signs for adults are:

  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
  • Sudden dizziness.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Flu-like symptoms that don’t get better after 7 days or improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
  • High fever (greater than 101°F) that lasts more than 3-5 days.
  • Severe headache, especially if associated with fever or neck stiffness.
  • Dark urine.
  • Severe muscle pain or tenderness.

If these symptoms occur, it is definitely time to seek medical treatment.

There are antiviral drugs that can decrease the length of the illness.  They should be started within 48 hours of onset of symptoms.  The antiviral drugs are expensive – without insurance the cost is around $100.  These are usually used for the really sick people; most healthy people with flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

The flu viruses spread mainly by droplets released when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.  The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine (no, it’s not too late to get one!).  This year’s flu vaccination includes 2009 H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.

Other ways to prevent the spread of flu are:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth – germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
  • Don’t smoke!  Smoking makes your respiratory tract more prone to infections.

You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.  Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick.

Now you know stuff about the flu; if you haven’t gotten your flu shot, we still have vaccine available here at Student Health and Wellness Clinic.  If you get the flu, follow the above recommendations and even though you will feel horrible, you will most likely live through it!!

For more information:

http://cdc.gov/flu/

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