updated October 29, 2022
This post was originally written and posted 2 years before we had even heard of SARS-CoV-2, aka COVID-19. Four years later, “flu” symptoms are just as likely to be due to COVID as influenza, maybe more so. Still, we need to be vigilant because neither has disappeared. This post focuses on influenza.
To many people “the flu” is any respiratory illness characterized by some combination of fever, cough, congestion, headache, fatigue, and body aches. That term has become so nonspecific even we doctors use it that way. But it more correctly refers to influenza, which is one of many viruses that cause illness. The illnesses caused by the other viruses are usually called “colds”, upper respiratory infections, aka URIs, bronchitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis and pneumonia.
I recommend this resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to understand
Flu Symptoms & Complications
Prior to the availability of the rapid flu test, using a nasal swab we doctors diagnosed influenza by the characteristic symptoms, confirmatory findings on exam, and knowing there was an outbreak in the community. The test is not absolutely necessary but is helpful for confirmation in the event the illness doesn’t progress as expected or to differentiate it from other illnesses especially COVID.
Vaccination-key to prevention
The World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) , the National Foundation for Infectious Disease and every other reputable medical organization recommends vaccination against influenza.
My family and I always get vaccinations which have successfully protected us without side effects or adverse reactions. There are risks, as is the case for any medical procedure, or other things we do in life. In this case we have decided the benefit outweighs the risk.
Other tips to stay well and protect others
- Stay home if you are sick, and ask your family, co-workers and employees to do the same.
- If you absolutely must go out among other people, put an effective mask over your nose and mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces.
Antiviral (influenza) medications
The antiviral drug Tamiflu, generic oseltamivir, will “shorten the duration and severity of symptoms” by 1-2 days, if started early (within 24-48 hours). There is some evidence that it will also lessen the risk of serious complications , especially in higher risk people (see below ).
I warn people that even with Tamiflu they will still feel miserable for a few days. But if it gets you back to school or work a day earlier, it may be worth the cost.
Oseltamivir can also be prescribed for prevention, if you know you have had close contact with someone with confirmed influenza, such as a household member. It’s only effective though for that episode, a 10 day course taken as soon as possible after exposure.
Xofluza, generic baloxavir, is for treatment of uncomplicated influenza for children and adults 12 years and older, who have been sick for no more than 48 hours. Patients take 2 tablets as a single dose. It can also be used post exposure .
Relenza, generic zanamivir, is a dry powder that is inhaled twice daily for 5 days or daily for prevention
Home care of influenza
- Rest; eat and drink as normally as possible; extra fluids if running a fever
- Non-prescription cough/congestion /pain/fever meds
Don’t confuse Tamiflu (generic oseltamivir) a prescription anti-viral drug with Theraflu, an over the counter drug that treats symptoms.Theraflu does not affect the course of the illness.
Here are more general guidelines on what to do if you get a respiratory illness from FamilyDoctor.org.
Influenza causes uncomfortable disabling symptoms but most people recover fairly quickly and fully. In some cases influenza can progress rapidly and overwhelm the respiratory and/or nervous systems, leading to death.
People also die from complications of influenza, and infants, young children and the elderly have greatest risk.The most common fatal complication is bacterial pneumonia, infection in the lung. Influenza can also attack the nervous system causing brain inflammation (encephalitis and/or meningitis) and paralysis in the form of Guillain Barre syndrome .
High risk persons-take influenza seriously
Persons with chronic illnesses like diabetes, lung disorders, chronic liver or kidney disease, depressed immune systems and cancer , as well as infants and persons of advanced age are at greater risk of complications and should always consult a physician if feeling ill. If you are not sure if you fall into that category, ask your doctor.
sharing the HEART of health in flu season
And please share this vital information-you may help safe someone’s life.
21 thoughts on “6 tips to cope during a flu epidemic”
Wise words! Thank you for sharing at #blogginggrandmotherslinkparty
Thank you Lori, I appreciate the opportunity to share.
Thank you for the tips, Dr Aletha. I had the flu in 2004, and I refused to let my husband take me to the doctor or emergency room. It was extremely bad for more than 2 weeks. Afterward, we realized he should not have listened to me! #BloggersPitStop
Jean I’m sorry you had the flu but hope that means you have avoided it for 14 years. Once one has had the flu you never forget how miserable it is. In my career the development of the vaccine and the anti-viral medication have given us something to fight it with.
Thanks for sharing this post on Sunday’s Best. People ignore flu symptoms or simply don’t take precautions to avoid infecting others. This flu season is deadly, and we should be taking care.
I think this flu season has educated a lot of people Rhonda. After a few mild years, we have forgotten how serious influenza can be. And many think antibiotics cure everything, when in fact they don’t do anything for influenza. I am alarmed at the number of people who feel obligated to go to work even when they are sick. I am sympathetic to employers but it endangers their other employees and customers.
Aletha, we will feature your post on The Blogger’s Pit Stop to get this information out there.
Blogger’s Pit Stop
Kathleen, thank you so much. I’m glad it will help people cope with this monster flu season which I hope will be over soon.
Good timing and all so relevant. I have been trying to raise awareness within my own company and this really helps, thank you!
Thank you Mainy. My state just reached a record number of people hospitalized for influenza and almost surpassed the most flu deaths since numbers have been tracked. The numbers would probably be higher if we did not have vaccination. It’s not 100% effective, but it does make a difference.
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I think the wearing of masks when you are sick should become a sign of courtesy by people who are sick and run the risk of infecting others!
You are so right Linda. At my clinic, everyone with suspected flu gets one to put on at check in. All those diagnosed with flu puts a mask on before leaving the exam room (if they don’t already have one on) and takes home an extra one and is encouraged to use them. Thanks for the reminder.
This flu season has been so extreme. People that are getting it have been out for a full week. My parents have been getting the shots every year for years.
Good for them, Dr. Elise. After a few years of mild flu seasons I think we forgot how severe influenza can be.
Very timely words! I wish everyone would get the flu shot. Please address the fact that many people untruthfully believe the flu shot makes them ill
Thank you Pat. I was just addressing misinformation in my comment to Melissa. You are right , the vaccine does not cause influenza, the virus is not live. If you get sick right after a flu shot, you had already caught that illness. The vaccine is not 100% effective, but we are noticing that when vaccinated people do get influenza, the symptoms are milder than those who aren’t.
Thorough and timely post.Great tips and resources. Thanks for compiling. Next year I won’t forget to get the shot!
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Thanks for commenting, Melissa. I wish it wasn’t so needed, this flu season has been brutal. I still don’t understand why so many people fear influenza vaccination, and why so many people spread inaccurate information about it. I think to do so is irresponsible.