What to Do if You Have the Flu

For the UAS Whalesong

Do you have a fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, headache and nausea? If so, you may have the flu. “Flu” is short for influenza, which is an illness caused by viruses of the same name. The viruses that cause the flu are constantly changing, which is why the flu shot must be given every year. The immunity that you develop to the flu virus one year will not help you the next year because that virus has changed its identity or an entirely new flu virus has arrived in your community.

What should you do if you have the flu? Stay home! The more you move about, the sicker you will feel and the higher likelihood that you will make others sick. If you must go out, wear a mask to prevent transmission (available at the UAS Clinic). The flu virus can be transmitted by sneezing or coughing, or by hand to mouth/eye/nose transmission. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent giving what you have got to others. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are an effective way to kill germs on your hands when soap and water are not available.

Because the flu is caused by viruses, antibiotics are not effective. So the treatment of the flu comes down to easing the symptoms. Ibuprofen and Tylenol can ease body aches, sore throat, headaches and reduce fever. If nausea is present, Tylenol is the least likely to upset your stomach. If you are nauseous, avoid high protein, high fat, high fiber or raw foods and instead stick with liquids and soft foods such as clear broth soups, oatmeal, mashed potatoes and cream of wheat.

Coughing, diarrhea and vomiting can severely dehydrate you. To avoid this, drink plenty of fluids but avoid cold drinks which can upset the stomach. Room temperature or warm drinks are best such as herbal teas, Gatorade, seltzer water, cup of soup, juices and Kool-aid. Avoid caffeinated drinks including Coca-cola and coffee. Honey can alleviate a sore throat and saline nasal irrigation (netti pot or nasal spray) can reduce congestion.

Sometimes more serious illnesses can be confused with the flu. If you have any of the following symptoms, see a doctor right away:  A fever over 102 degrees, difficulty breathing, persistent vomiting, confusion or delirium, severe abdominal pain, or severe headache that persists despite pain relievers.

You may have heard of Tamiflu and think that it is a “cure” for the flu. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Tamiflu must be taken within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms to be effective and may shorten the duration of your illness by about one day. Most people will suffer from flu symptoms anywhere between 1 – 2 weeks, so it is unlikely that Tamiflu will make a noticeable difference to your illness.

Many people think that the flu shot is just for old people and do not realize that most health insurance plans will cover this immunization for all ages. A doctor’s visit is not necessary – your local pharmacist (Fred Meyer, Safeway, Walmart) can give you this immunization and bill your insurance. If you do not have insurance, you can get the flu shot at the Juneau Public Health Center free of charge.

How can you prevent getting the flu? Keep your immune system healthy! Get enough sleep (for most people that means 6 – 8 hours a day), drink plenty of water, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and take vitamin D which is essential for your immune system to function properly. There is a handout in the UAS clinic and counseling waiting room that can help you determine how much vitamin D you should be taking.

To prevent disease transmission, wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing, and carry alcohol based hand sanitizer with you when you leave home.

Remember that the self-help table in the UAS clinic waiting room has Tylenol, ibuprofen, saline nasal spray, cough drops and that there are hand sanitizing stations located around campus. Take advantage of these offerings!

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