Every year millions of people in the United States are affected by the flu virus. There have been 22 million flu illnesses with 210,000 of them resulting in hospitalizations just this flu season alone. Most of those that catch the flu suffer from a mild flu that will resolve in two or so weeks. Others may have complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and/or ear infections. Those at a high risk for catching the flu that lead to complications are those that are 65+ years of age and young children. Those with asthma, diabetes, HIV, AIDS and/or cancer are also at a higher risk.
If you catch the flu, it can be difficult to know what you should do and what’s normal. Here to answer some of the most common flu questions is Mountainside Medical Center’s Julie Kidangan, D.O.
Q: What do I do if I’ve been diagnosed with the flu?
A: Rest and hydration are key. Do not push yourself as this will make the recovery more difficult. Make sure to take all medications as prescribed by your doctor. Contact your workplace / school / recent contacts and let them know about your diagnosis.
Q: How do I keep from getting my family and friends sick?
A: Make sure to wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of the virus. Cover your cough and sneezes with your arm instead of your hands or into a disposable tissue. Avoid shaking people’s hands or hugging them. Stay home. Do not go to work and avoid crowded settings.
Q: What should I do in addition to taking Tamiflu (or another prescription)?
A: Hydrate with water and low sugar electrolyte drinks. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Get plenty of rest. Eat healthy to boost your immune system.
Q: If Tamiflu didn’t make me feel better, what should I do?
A: Tamiflu when taken within 48 hours after symptom onset reduce the duration of influenza symptoms by 1 or 2 days. Flu symptoms unfortunately can persist for 1 or 2 weeks. If your symptoms are unchanged or worsening return to your doctor for evaluation.
Q: What other medications can I take with Tamiflu?
A: Generally most over the counter medications can be taken with Tamiflu. Always consult with your doctor or pharmacist to be certain no interactions exist.
Q: Is there a reason I should go back to see the doctor?
A: You should return to your doctor if symptoms persist for greater than 2 weeks, have a persistent cough, pain is concentrated in a single area like the ear, sinus or chest and /or fever which has been improving suddenly worsens. Complications of flu include secondary infections like pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infection which may require antibiotics. Signs to go to the ER include shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion, persistent vomiting, inability to hold down fluids, or severe neck stiffness.
Q: How long will I be contagious?
A: You are contagious generally 1 day before developing symptoms and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming ill. Make sure to practice good hand hygiene and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
The good news is that the flu can be prevented. Start by washing your hands frequently. Run hands under water and scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds. You should also get the flu vaccine every season. The vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of six months. Talk to your primary care physician about receiving the flu vaccine.