What to do if you think you’re getting the flu
If you haven’t come down with the flu yet, there’s still a good chance that you will. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu season is likely to last several more weeks, leading to fever, aches, headaches, and general misery. That’s something our team here at Consumer Reports knows all too well since some of us, including myself, are stuck at home with the virus. Here are a few lessons I learned while in “quarantine”.
Get your flu shot. The CDC estimates that this year’s vaccine reduces the risk that you’ll have to see a doctor for the flu by about 60 percent. There is a chance that you can still get the flu even if you’ve had the vaccine, which is what happened to me, but my symptoms seemed milder than experienced by some others I’ve talked with. (And it’s not too late to find a flu shot near you.)
Listen to your body. The flu hits you hard and fast, unlike a cold, which is more gradual. Chills, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches, cough, and fatigue are some of the main symptoms. I knew something was up when I had trouble lifting the teapot last Saturday morning.
Buy a thermometer. You usually get a fever with the flu. Make sure you have an accurate thermometer like the CVS Flexible Tip Digital to keep tabs on it.
Stock up on the essentials. Over-the-counter meds like acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) or ibuprofen (Advil and generic) can help fight your fever and headaches. For congestion, it’s best to start with a nasal drop or spray like oxymetazoline (Afrin, Neosynephrine Nighttime, and generic). After three days, switch to pseudoephedrine pills (Sudafed and generic), since taking the sprays longer than that can cause congestion. You’ll need to ask your pharmacist if you need pseudoephedrine, since it’s only sold behind-the-pharmacy-counter. And talk with a doctor first, though, if you take any prescription medication or have anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or hyperthyroidism.
Protect your family. Make sure you sneeze and cough into tissues, wash your hands regularly, wipe down surfaces, and crack the windows, so the rest of your family doesn’t get sick while you’re recovering at home. I wore a mask at home, to protect my mom since she has a compromised immune system. I also used plastic cutlery, paper plates and bowls, and plastic cups all week.
See a doctor if symptoms are severe or you’re at high risk. Most people don’t need to see a doctor for mild flu symptoms, but I did, to protect my mom. Children younger than 5, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems should also get to a doctor or urgent care center. That’s because a prescription antiviral drug such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) may shorten the duration of the illness by a day or so if started within 48 hours of symptoms and prevent complications in high risk people. Consult a doctor also if you develop trouble breathing or if an existing problem such as diabetes or asthma grows worse. And remember: Antibiotics won’t help a flu or cold, since they treat bacterial infections, not viruses.
Stay home. It’s hard to stay home when you have all kinds of obligations, including work deadlines. But you can stay contagious up to five to seven days after becoming sick. So put on your favorite sweats, have some chicken soup, drink lots of tea, follow the directions for any prescription and OTC medications, and rest up. You’ll feel better soon.
And, yes, I will definitely get the flu shot again next year.