Everything You Need to Know About the Flu

Seasonal flu is a serious illness causing approximately 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths each year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older be vaccinated against influenza. Washing your hands often, and coughing and sneezing into a tissue or into the inside your elbow, will also help keep you and others healthy.

“Remember that the flu and other flu-like illnesses can spread easily, especially to those whose immune system may already be weakened by another medical condition,” says Sharon Wright, MD, MPH, BIDMC’s Director of Infection Control/Hospital Epidemiology. “That’s why we ask hospital staff and visitors to pay close attention to protect the health of those around them.”

If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms and plan to visit a loved one in the hospital, please consider delaying your visit until you are feeling better. If are scheduled for an elective appointment or procedure, please talk to your care provider about whether it would be safe for you to reschedule.

“If you do come to the medical center with flu-like symptoms, we ask you to obtain and wear a mask, available at all BIDMC entrances,” Wright says. “And we thank you in advance for helping us fight the flu.”

Common Flu Symptoms

Influenza is a contagious respiratory viral infection that usually comes on suddenly. Typical symptoms include:

Fever (100ºF or higher)

PLUS

Cough or sore throat

Other Possible Flu Symptoms

Headache

Fatigue

Muscle aches

For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

How to Prepare Before You Get Sick

Get Vaccinated!

It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. Given the normal duration of flu season, vaccinations are often offered as late as April 1. Read more about why the flu vaccine is the best defense against the virus.

Stock up on Supplies

Having the right supplies at home is helpful in advance of someone getting sick. This includes:

  • A digital thermometer
  • Non-aspirin medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Liquids such as water, fruit juice, soups and sports drinks (read more on the health benefits of chicken noodle soup)
  • Soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel
  • Food that is easy to digest (crackers, oatmeal, rice, etc.)
  • Cleaning supplies, such as household disinfectant, paper towels, trash bags, etc.
  • The name and phone number of the family doctor

How to Take Care of Someone with the Flu

Caring for a Fever

  • Give fever-reducing medicines that are right for the person’s age, after consulting a physician, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin.
  • Keep the room comfortably cool.
  • Make sure they are wearing light-weight clothing.
  • Have them drink fluids, especially water.
  • Considering sponging them with lukewarm water if they have a high fever.

When to call a doctor:

  • A person of any age has a fever for more than 3 days;
  • A person under 3 months old has a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher;
  • A person 3 to 5 months old has a fever of 102 degrees or higher.

Preventing Dehydration

Dehydration can occur with low fluid intake, or with a fever, diarrhea or vomiting. To prevent dehydration:

  • Drink plenty of fluids like water, fruit or vegetable juices, soups and broths; Gatorade for adults and Pedialyte for kids.
  • Do not drink caffeine or alcohol.

Reducing Body Aches and Tiredness

Body aches are also a common symptom of the flu. To help reduce body aches, headaches and tiredness, you may want to:

  • Give fever-reducing medicine. The same medicine you give him/her for a fever will also help with other symptoms.
  • Help change his/her position in bed when they are awake.
  • Make sure it is quiet and calm in the room so they can relax.

Helping with Stuffy Nose, Sore Throat and Dry Cough

To help with a stuffy nose, sore throat and dry cough, you may want to:

  • Use a clean, cool-mist humidifier or steam from a hot shower or bath.
  • Ask anyone who smokes not to smoke in the house.
  • Use breathing strips for people having trouble breathing through their nose.
  • Use a saline spray or saltwater rinse in the nose (for older children and adults only).
  • Have the sick person sit up or keep his/her head raised to help reduce stuffiness. Crib mattresses and beds can be raised slightly.
  • Gargle with salt water several times a day to help reduce a sore throat or cough. To make salt water, mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water.

For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

When You Should Call a Doctor

If you are pregnant or if you have a health problem like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, it is important to call your doctor when the first flu symptoms appear. Your health condition could be made worse by the flu.

Seek Medical Attention If Someone…

  • Has a fever that lasts more than three days.
  • Has a fever or cough that goes away for 24 hours or more and then returns.
  • Has a fever with a stiff neck, a very bad headache, a severe sore throat, an earache or a rash.
  • Has less urine or dark-colored urine.
  • Has green, brown-colored or bloody mucus that comes up when they cough.
  • Has severe vomiting or vomits for a long time.
  • Is very fussy or sleepy (infants and children).
  • Has any other unusual symptoms or concerns.
  • Has not gotten better after a week.
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