The Flu: How Do I Care for Myself and Protect Others?
- Avoid contact with others: If you have a fever, stay home until it is gone for more than 24 hours. Avoid other household members and visitors by staying alone in your room as much as possible. Consider a mask if you need to leave your room or go out of the house, or at least cover your face with the inner side of your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands: You should wash your hands with alcohol hand sanitizer (such as Purell or generic versions) or soap and water after you touch your face to cover a sneeze or a cough. Other household members should wash their hands frequently too.
- Rest: Get a lot of rest. Don’t exercise until you are feeling much better and your muscle aches have stopped.
- Consume plenty of fluids: Keep up on your fluids like water, soup and juice (limit sugary beverages if you’re a diabetic). The fever associated with flu can increase water loss from the skin.
- Manage symptoms: In adolescents and adults, two acetaminophen 325-milligram pills every six hours or two to three ibuprofen 200-milligram pills every six hours can help with fever, muscle aches and headache. Cough medicines are available over-the-counter, but it is not clear how well they work. Adding honey in your tea may be effective for a cough. (If you are diabetic, be mindful of possibly increasing your blood sugar with cough medicines and honey.) For younger children, consult their primary care provider.
- Take antiviral drugs where appropriate: The vast majority of persons with the flu recover completely without antiviral drug treatment. However, your physician may prescribe an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu or Relenza. These drugs are often used in flu patients with shortness of breath, pneumonia or certain high-risk medical conditions such as pregnancy, asthma, COPD, diabetes and heart disease. They may also help to shorten the course of illness by one to two days in healthy persons who have the flu and star antiviral treatment within 48 hours. Tamiflu causes nausea and vomiting in about 10 to 15 percent of persons. Relenza should not be used in patients with asthma, COPD or wheezing. Antibiotics are not effective against the flu because it is a viral infection. Antibiotics may be helpful if your physician diagnoses a secondary bacterial infection, but in the vast majority of flu cases, antibiotics are not necessary.
- Seek care if your symptoms worsen: Seek immediate medical care if you develop worrisome symptoms such as trouble breathing, persistent vomiting, or confusion. Also, call your medical provider if you get better but then your symptoms start up again.
- Take caution if breastfeeding: If you are sick with the flu, consider wearing a mask while breastfeeding. If you do not have a mask, cover your face with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands after using a tissue or touching your face. At the very least, point your face away from the baby if you have to cough or sneeze. If you are too sick to breastfeed, pump your breasts and have a well family member give your milk to the baby by bottle. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and (to the best of our knowledge) antiviral drugs approved for treating flu are safe for women to take when breastfeeding. If your infant is six months or older, make sure they, as well as you, get the flu vaccine.
- If pregnant, talk to your doctor: Experts recommend treatment of pregnant women who have suspected or confirmed flu with an antiviral drug like Tamiflu or Relenza. This is especially true for women in the second and third trimesters where risk from flu is the greatest. Our experience in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic showed how sick pregnant women can get with the flu. In some cases antiviral treatment was thought to be life-saving. Information to date strongly suggests that the antiviral medications Tamiflu and Relenza are safe in pregnancy. Acetaminophen can be taken during pregnancy but not NSAID drugs like ibuprofen or alcohol-containing medicines like many cough syrups.
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