What to Do if You Get the Flu

November 6, 2013

If you are experiencing symptoms such as fevers, chills, body aches, fatigue, congestion and cough and think you might have the flu, there are measures you can take to reduce your symptoms. Medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can relieve fevers and body aches. Be sure to read the labeling on all over the counter medications carefully to ensure proper dosing and to confirm there are no contraindications to you taking the specific medication (for example; underlying liver or kidney disease, history of increased bleeding, or hypertension). Avoid salicylates or aspirin containing medications, especially in children under the age of 18 because of their association with a dangerous condition called Reye syndrome. Over the counter cough suppressants have not been shown to be of great benefit. Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
Stay home. Individuals with the flu should remain home from work, school, and other populated environments until their symptoms have resolved. This is very important to limit the spread of infection to others. While at home, studies have shown using face masks and good hand washing practices within the first 36 hours of illness, reduces the spread of infection to other household members.
When should I see a doctor?
The answer to that question depends on whether or not the affected person is in a demographic group known to be at high risk for complications of the flu. High risk individuals should seek medical attention as soon as they suspect they may have the flu so antiviral medications, if found to be indicated, can be started.
High Risk Patients include:

  • Patients < 2 years of age
  • Adults 65 years or older
  • Patients of any age who are immunosuppressed
  • Women who are pregnant or postpartum.
  • Patients with chronic lung (including asthma), heart, kidney, liver, blood, endocrine, or neurologic disorders
  • Residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities
  • Patients with intellectual disabilities or developmental delay
  • Morbidly obese adults (Body Mass Index > 40)
  • Native Americans and Alaskan Natives

Anyone else, not in a high risk group, experiencing persisting or particularly severe symptoms should seek medical care and be assessed for possible secondary bacterial infections or for airway narrowing which can occur in more complicated cases of influenza.
How can a doctor tell if I have the flu?
Although the diagnosis of flu is typically made based on clinical symptoms and physical findings alone, rapid flu tests, using nasal swabs, can be done in a medical office to help clarify a patient’s diagnosis.
Should I take an antiviral medication?
Patients in the high risk groups listed above and those who require hospitalization should be treated with antiviral medication. The average patient (non-high risk) with typical flu symptoms is unlikely to benefit much from taking antiviral medication. Studies show the most commonly prescribed antiviral medication for influenza, oseltamivir (Tamiflu), will shorten the duration of symptoms in an otherwise healthy person by an average of 22 hours. If this medication is started after a patient has already had symptoms for 48 hours, it has not been shown to have any effect on either a patient’s symptoms or their duration of illness. As with all medications, oseltamivir has potential side effects that can include nausea, vomiting, and possible neuropsychiatric symptoms.
How long will I be sick for?
Patients with uncomplicated influenza usually gradually improve over two to five days although the illness may last for one week or more. Some patients experience persisting symptoms of weakness or easy fatigability, this can last for several weeks.
Remember, being proactive and getting an annual flu immunization can protect you from developing this uncomfortable, potentially serious infection.
Dr. Cynthia Vanson
Assistant Medical Director

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