Flu got you?

The day starts well, but by afternoon you suddenly feel tired. An hour later your head and joints hurt and your nose feels stuffy. You have a shivering chill and realize that you’re cooking up quite a fever. By evening you’re coughing, your throat feels raw and you’re so weak you can hardly move.

Settle in, my friend. The flu has you.


What exactly is “the flu”?


Influenza is a highly contagious viral illness. Symptoms develop two to three days after exposure. The onset is rapid. Most people can point to the hour that they became ill.


Flu is a respiratory illness. It looks and sounds like a very bad cold or bronchitis and is accompanied by body aches, high fever (102 ?” 103 F in adults) and extreme exhaustion.


Some flu victims have nausea and vomiting if temperature rises sharply. This is a side effect of the fever, not part of the flu itself.


I’ve got the flu – what now?


Settle in. Flu symptoms normally last for about a week, with complete recovery taking another two weeks. If you don’t rest, recovery can take months. Research suggests that chronic fatigue syndrome may follow prolonged viral illnesses.


Stay home. You might think that you “should” be at work or school, but remember that flu is a dangerous illness. Flu can kill, and it’s your responsibility not to spread it.


Drink lots of water. When you have the flu, tremendous amounts of water are lost through fever and it’s easy to become dehydrated. Drink one to two glasses of water each hour, until your urine turns colorless.


Additional fluids include juice, herbal teas, broth, gelatin and popsicles. Avoid caffeinated drinks as these are diuretics and add to dehydration.


If you’re hungry, eat lightly. If you aren’t hungry, don’t worry: as long as you keep the fluids going in, you’ll be OK without food for a couple of days.


While they won’t shorten the illness, aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen will help relieve pain and fever. Note: children under age 18 should not take aspirin; the combination of influenza and aspirin in those under 18 is linked to Reye’s syndrome, a sometimes fatal disease.


Use a tissue when you cough or blow your nose, then throw it away and wash your hands. Over-the-counter decongestants and cough preparations may help decrease nasal stuffiness and soothe a cough and sore throat.


Antibiotics are not indicated for treating influenza, as they do not affect viruses.


If started within 48 hours after symptoms begin, prescription antiviral medications can reduce the severity and duration of flu and may also make flu victims less contagious.


How do you prevent flu?


By far, the most important aspect of prevention is the annual flu shot. The shots are cheap, safe and effective. Because flu viruses change every year, every year’s vaccine is new, which is why annual immunization is necessary.


Flu shots aren’t 100 percent foolproof. However, an immunized person who gets the flu will have a milder, shorter illness.


There’s another good reason to get flu shots: although immunization isn’t permanent, there’s evidence that flu shots may boost the immune system for years, offering protection against influenza epidemics and pandemics.


During flu season – which starts in November and goes into late winter – it’s helpful to avoid crowds. Adults are infectious from the day before to five days after symptoms begin, and can spread flu before they even know they have it.


Avoid touching things that other people touch, as these may be laden with virus: doorknobs, faucets and public telephones. Don’t share toothbrushes, drinking glasses or eating utensils. And no drinking directly out of the milk carton!


Wash your hands often. Use soap and water and lather vigorously for 15-20 seconds before rinsing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers also kill flu virus.


Stay away from people who are obviously ill. If you live with someone who has the flu, don’t sleep in the same room. If you know someone with the flu who lives alone, check in with them every day – just be sure to keep your distance.


Scary stats about the flu


Influenza is a major cause of hospitalization and death in the United States, affecting all ages. In an average year, flu kills 36,000 people in the United States and hospitalizes 200,000. Most of those cases involve elderly people, small children or those already weakened by another condition.


A pandemic is an outbreak of disease that occurs on a global level and causes high numbers of illness and death. The greatest world flu pandemic to date was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed more people than World War I, leaving between 20 and 40 million dead. One of the most devastating epidemics in recorded world history, it affected one fifth of the Earth’s population and 28 percent of people in the United States.


Do what Mom would do


The "hot toddy" is a time-honored treatment for colds and flu. The word toddy has Scotch origins, and probably is a reference to Tod’s well, a spring located on a hill in the heart of Edinburgh and the water source for the city’s distilleries. The Scots developed a fondness for the hot toddy, realizing that it opened the lungs and brought a healthy flush to their cheeks.


In a hot toddy, the heat relaxes, opens and moistens airways and loosens phlegm. Honey has antibacterial/antiviral properties, while lemon provides vitamins and minerals. Honey and lemon together furnish natural sugars and reduce fever, while the alcohol helps the sick person sleep. However, alcohol also depletes the body of vitamin C, which is crucial to the immune system.


A hot toddy recipe: Into a warmed mug, squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Stir in 1 tablespoon honey and 2 ounces whiskey or rum. Fill mug with simmering hot water and stir to blend. Drink the toddy while it is as hot as possible, holding the mug below the nose and mouth so as to breathe the warm steam.


Chicken soup is another bastion of flu treatment. Some research has found that chicken soup soothes the respiratory tract, inhibits mucus formation and kills flu virus.


A simple chicken soup recipe: Into a large kettle, place a whole chicken or a package of chicken parts (remove visible excess fat first). Add 1 sliced onion, 2 sliced carrots, 2-3 stalks of chopped celery, 2 garlic cloves (peeled and chopped), 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. (If available, a bay leaf and a handful of fresh parsley are also fine additions.) Cover with water, bring slowly to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hours. Skim off foam as it accumulates.


After 2-3 hours, remove the chicken allow to cool slightly. Skim fat from surface of broth. Pull the chicken meat off the bones (throw skin and bones away) and return chicken meat to broth. Return soup to a boil, and toss in a couple of handfuls of dry pasta or a handful of rice. Simmer until done. Add more salt as needed.


Spicy foods are also helpful to flu sufferers. Capsaicin – the substance creating the heat – soothes cough and may actually kill flu viruses.