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Published on January 18, 2019

Sick with the fluHow to Beat and Treat the Flu

In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health expert, Melissa Morgan, MSN, RN, gives tips on how to beat and treat the flu, including:

Difference Between a Cold and the Flu and Avoiding Them?

While both the cold and flu are viruses, a cold is not as severe a virus as the flu. Both have similar symptoms, which include:

• Body aches.
• Congestion.
• Cough.
• Fever.
• Stuffy/runny nose.

A cold should last no more than 3 to 4 days, where the flu will last between 7 and 10 days. However, some colds can last as long as the flu. The major difference between the two is that the symptoms of a cold are milder.
If your symptoms have lasted for longer than a few days and over-the-counter medicine isn’t working, you likely have the flu and will want to see a provider at urgent care or schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.

Those with other medical conditions, like diabetes, are also at a greater risk for the flu because viruses can affect multiple systems in your body, like your blood sugar. Those in high-risk groups should reach out to their doctor if they’re not feeling well.

The best way to prevent any infection, including the flu, is to wash your hands with soap and water. An alcohol-based gel or foam sanitizer will also kill most common viruses. If you have to sneeze, make sure you do it into your arm (the “Dracula sneeze”) instead of into your hand to prevent the spread of germs. As long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, it’s never too late to get your flu shot.

What To Do When You Have the Flu

If you have the flu, stay home. Transmission is based on exposure, so if you’re home you can’t pass it to anyone else. Get lots of rest because your body is trying to heal. Make sure you have good nutrition and drink plenty of water in order to hydrate. Also, give it time – the typical flu lasts between 7 and 10 days for most people.

There are several over-the-counter medications you can take to help your flu symptoms:

  • Fever reducers – ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
  • Expectorants– products containing guaifenesin will break up and thin mucus.
  • Cough suppressants and cough drops.
  • Decongestants.

Your primary care provider or doctor at urgent care may also write you a prescription for Tamiflu to treat the virus.

Make yourself a priority while you’ve got the flu. This may be tough for those who are parents or caregivers, but you need to take time to let your body heal and recover, as it needs more energy than usual to fight an infection. If you don’t, you will likely spread the virus to others.

Keeping Your Family Healthy When Someone Has the Flu

If a member of your family has the flu, make sure they limit interaction with other family members. The flu can spread through droplet transmission when someone is coughing, sneezing or talking. Sitting a mere 3 to 6 feet away from someone with the flu puts you at risk for getting infected, so that could mean as close as sitting across the dinner table from them.

Make sure you monitor your family member’s symptoms, and that they are hydrated and cared for.

Extra sanitizing and cleaning is key if someone in your home has the flu. After that person leaves a room, wipe down all the hard surfaces. The common household cleaners you use every day, including those with bleach, work best. Make sure labels on the cleaners say the product is tested against common colds and viruses. Wear rubber gloves while you clean to further prevent getting sick and spreading infection.

Take steps to keep the rest of your family healthy while your loved one heals. This includes making sure they’re eating plenty of healthy foods, drinking lots of water and getting enough exercise. Your primary care provider can also discuss well-being and healthy routines that will help prevent you from getting the flu.

About the Expert

Melissa Morgan, MSN, RN, is the senior system-wide director for infection prevention and sterile processing at Cone Health. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Winston-Salem State University and her master’s degree in nursing from Jacksonville University. She is a fellow with The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

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