Flu Season: Prevention, Symptom Management, & the Flu Shot
This article is here to help you protect and take care of yourself during flu season!
What is the flu?
Influenza is a common, infectious respiratory disease that begins in your nose and throat. Human influenza, or the flu, is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. Strains circulate every year, making people sick. It typically starts with a headache, chills, and cough, followed rapidly by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, running nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and throat irritation. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Symptoms typically appear 1 to 4 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus, but you’re still contagious even if you don’t show symptoms yet. Most people who get the flu will recover within 7 to 10 days.
Cold & Flu Prevention; Tips to Keep Your Immune System Strong
- Regularly wash your hands (It is also good to carry hand sanitizer with you)
- Stay Active
- Drink lots of water regularly
- Try your best to minimize stress
- Try to get enough rest
- Have a nutrient dense diet
- Reduce substance use as much as possible
Immunization: Come by, Get Your Flu Shot!
Receiving the flu vaccine substantially lowers your chances of getting sick, being hospitalized, or experiencing fatal outcomes due to the flu virus. It can also lessen the intensity and duration of flu symptoms if you do contract the illness. It’s especially important to note that the flu shot cannot give you the flu and the shot is also different each year because the virus changes frequently – so you need to get it every fall!
The Student Wellness Centre provides an annual flu shot clinic once the new vaccine is available through Public Health. This clinic is usually held in late October or November. Check our website and socials for updates!
In the instance where you do happen to contract the flu, it can be a challenging and discomforting experience to deal with. It’s essential to know how to manage the symptoms and take appropriate measures to ensure a swift recovery. Here are a few tips:
- Stay home when sick
- Wear a mask in public
- Cover your coughs/sneezes
- Practice social distancing
- Clean and disinfect your environment
Managing your symptoms is key to alleviating the distress associated with the flu, making it essential to adopt specific practices that can provide relief and aid in a quicker recovery. These are a few tried-and-true methods that are helpful.
To manage a Sore Throat, try:
- Ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) may be used to reduce throat pain.
- Lozenges, lollipops, and/or popsicles which increase saliva production, will help alleviate throat dryness and irritation. Note; Some lozenges have a mild numbing agent (such as Hexylresorcinol or Benzocaine). Also, for extra relief. – Warm or cold drinks and soup are also effective (whichever provides you most relief).
- Gargling salt water (½ teaspoon salt + 1 cup warm water) 2-4 times per day to reduce swelling and irritation and moisturize the throat.
- Consuming plenty of clear fluids to keep you hydrated and throat moist. Aim for at least 10 cups daily.
- Consider trying a humidifier, steam from a hot shower, or basin of hot water (fill a basin with hot water, carefully lean over top the basin, and drape a towel over your head and the basin to trap the steam) to moisten throat
To manage a Fever, Aches, & Malaise try:
- Ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) to lower fever and reduce body aches.
- Plenty of clear fluids to keep you hydrated. Aim for at least 10 cups daily.
- Rest and sleep, allowing your body time to recover.
To manage Cough & Phlegm try:
- Plenty of clear fluids to keep you hydrated and phlegm loose.
- A humidifier, steam from a hot shower, or basin of hot water (fill a basin with hot water, carefully lean over top the basin, and drape a towel over your head and the basin to trap the steam) to loosen phlegm.
- Elevating your head with extra pillows when you sleep.
- Cough medicines. There is not enough evidence to determine whether they work, but some people may find them helpful in making it easier to cough-up and clear phlegm or to help suppress the cough reflex. This is particularly helpful when you are trying to rest and sleep
To manage Nausea, Vomiting, & Diarrhea try:
- Drinking plenty of clear fluids. Your body quickly loses fluids and electrolytes when you have vomiting or diarrhea, making it easier for you to become dehydrated. Even if you do not feel well enough to eat food, it is most important to keep hydrated. Drink plenty of clear fluids. Aim for 10 cups daily.
- Rehydration solutions to restore fluids and electrolytes. You can buy pre-made solution (e.g., Gastrolyte) or make your own.
- Dimenhydrinate (e.g., Gravol) which can help reduce nausea. Use this medication only as-needed. As your body gets used to it (even after taking it for only a few days), it needs more and more of it to give you the same effect (you build up a tolerance).
- Loperamide (e.g., Imodium) which can temporarily reduce the frequency of diarrhea. – Attapulgite (e.g., Kaopectate) absorbs extra liquids in the bowel, which helps make stools more solid.
- Bismuth (e.g., Pepto-Bismol) which works by decreasing inflammation and blocking the body from releasing more fluid into the bowels.
To manage Sinus Congestion & Nasal Mucus try:
- Plenty of clear fluids to keep you hydrated, nasal passages moist, and nasal mucus thin and flowing. Aim for at least 10 cups daily.
- A humidifier; steam from a hot shower, or basin of hot water (fill a basin with hot water, carefully lean over top the basin, and drape a towel over your head and the basin to trap the steam) to loosen mucus.
- A Neti pot to flush-out nasal mucous and moisten nasal passages.
- Saline nasal spray to moisturize nasal passages and loosen mucus.
- Applying warm, damp towels around your nose, cheeks, and eyes to ease facial pain.
- Elevating your head with extra pillows when you sleep.
- Ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol). Facial pain caused by pressure buildup in the sinus cavities may be relieved with this.
- Decongestant nasal sprays which can temporarily shrink swollen nasal tissue, quickly relieving congestion. However, prolonged use can result in rebound congestion (avoid using for more than 3 days). Corticosteroid nasal sprays may help to reduce inflammation and mucus in the nasal passages.
Things to note
- Most infections, like a “cold” (upper respiratory infection), “flu” (influenza), “sinus infection” (sinusitis), and “stomach flu” (gastroenteritis) are caused by viruses.
- Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections.
- While the severity of your symptoms does not necessarily imply if your illness is viral or bacterial, bacterial infections do tend to last longer than viral. Symptoms that don’t start to improve after 5-7 days, or slightly improve then worsen again (“double worsening”) are suspicious for bacterial cause.
So, when do I see a doctor?
It may be difficult to determine whether a bacterium or a virus is causing your illness. Sometimes a health care provider can make an early diagnosis based on symptoms, but often the only clue is the duration of your symptoms. Most cold & flu symptoms can be treated at home, but sometimes you will need additional medication or care from a doctor. Book an appointment to see a physician if the following occur:
- You have a fever of 38.5°C ((101°F)) for more than 72 hours
- You have chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
- You have severe headache or neck stiffness
- You have significant difficulty swallowing, speaking, or drooling
- Dizziness, confusion, visual disturbance or loss of consciousness
- Respiratory or throat symptoms that have not improved after 7 days
- Unable to keep fluids down for more than 12 hours
- Severe abdominal pain
- Vomiting blood or material that resembles coffee grounds
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 48 hours without improvement
- Blood in stool