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Surviving the flu season

What is the flu?

The flu (influenza) is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by various influenza viruses. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes the virus can be inhaled by others. If your body does not fight it off, you will probably come down with the flu within one to three days after exposure.

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

Both are viral infections. A cold is a minor viral infection of the nose and throat while the flue is usually more severe, with high fevers and achiness.

How do I know if I have the flu?

The onset of the flu is accompanied by symptoms such as fever and chills, coughing, muscle and joint pain, headaches, fatigue, and general body weakness. Some people also get a stuffy nose and sore throat.

How can I avoid getting the flu? 

  • Prevent infection with adequate rest, healthy food, regular moderate exercise, plenty of non-alcoholic liquids. 
  • Avoid those who have the flu, since the virus is easily spread. 
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus from your hands to your eyes, nose or mouth. You do not need antibacterial soaps; regular soap and water removes the virus. 
  • If you share equipment such as telephones and keyboards, wipe them off with rubbing alcohol between users. 
  • Quit smoking and avoid second-hand cigarette smoke, which irritates the mucus membranes.

If I get the flu, what should I do? 

  • The flu is a viral infection. Do not attempt to treat it with antibiotics. 
  • Rest is essential. Take at least two or three days of bed rest. 
  • Take in plenty of fluids, with an emphasis on water, non-caffeinated tea, fruit juice, and clear broth. 
  • Eat healthy foods, but don't force yourself to eat. Even if you are not eating much, remember to keep drinking.
  • Take a pain reliever for aches and fever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 
  • Avoid multi-symptom remedies, which tend to be less effective (and more expensive!) that those intended for individual symptoms.

Should I call my clinician?

In healthy adults and children the flu is generally self-limiting as long as you take common sense measures. In some cases the flu can lead to more dangerous infections such as pneumonia. Those over 50 years of age with chronic health problems or weakened immune systems should contact their clinician if they get the flu. Also, alert your clinician if certain symptoms occur, as they may indicate a more serious problem. These include: 

  • coughing up thick, discolored or bloody mucus 
  • recurring fever that does not abate after a day or two 
  • chest pain 
  • facial swelling 
  • severe pain in the face or forehead 
  • earache

Should I get a flu shot?

The vaccine reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of contracting the virus because the strains it protects against may not be the same as those that are going around in your area. Still, because of their greater vulnerability to complications, those over 50 years of age and those with chronic health problems should get a yearly flu shot. Even if you receive a flu shot, you should still take common-sense preventative measures.

(Source: Yale Cold Care Center, Yale University Health Services) Using antibiotics wisely.

Students walk across campus.