A picture of someone filling a glass with tap water
January 29, 2018

How to Avoid the Flu, and What to Do if You Get It

UCR SOM & UCR Health physicians offer important information in what has become one of the largest flu outbreaks on record

Author: Ross French
January 29, 2018

map of the US

According to the CDC website, this year’s flu outbreak is considered “widespread” in 49 of the 50 states.CDC WEBSITE

The 2017-18 flu season has become the most widespread since health officials began keeping track of the in the mid-2000s. According to the Washington Post, more than 12,000 people have been hospitalized since the flu season started in October. The predominant strain, H3N2, is one of the more aggressive viruses out there due to its ability to adapt and change to get around the human body’s immune system.  An increase in flu activity is expected for several more weeks.

While it is inevitable that at an institution as large as UCR some people will get the flu, there are steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of the illness and minimize its impact. Thus, UCR Health Chief Executive Officer Michael Nduati, M.D. and Chief Medical Officer Tae Kim, M.D., have helped to compile the following flu-related information for faculty, staff and students. By working together and being informed, we can help prevent the spread of the illness.

How do I know if I have the flu?

Symptoms can vary, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person will feel some or all of these symptoms.

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills – a temperature of 100.5 or higher for 3-4 days is associated with the flu
  • Non-productive cough (non-mucus producing)
  • Sore throat (more common with the common cold)
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Severe muscle or body aches
  • Headaches (80% of the flu)
  • Fatigue (tiredness) – moderate to severe
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, (more common in children)

If I get the flu, when will I feel better?

People who get the flu can begin feeling better in as little as three or four days, but some take as long as two weeks. The possibility of complications among young children, adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions is very high.

Should I still get a flu shot?

Yes! The flu season runs through May, and there is still time to get a shot and for it to take effect. Remember that there are multiple flu viruses, so even if you have had one version of the flu, you could still get sick from another strain. Contact your physician to find out more about getting a flu shot. If your physician is not offering the vaccine, please visit Vaccinefinder.org  to find locations that offer immunization.

What else can I do to avoid getting sick?

Avoid the spread of germs – wash your hands thoroughly, with soap, for 20 seconds. If someone in your household is sick, do your best to minimize contact by setting up a sick room to avoid contamination. Isolate toothbrushes and, when the sick family member gets well, replace the toothbrush with a new one. Launder bedding frequently and bath towels, washing sheets in hot water. Keep a container of antibacterial wipes handy and clean remote controls, door handles, light switches and other commonly used surfaces regularly.

Hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes can and should be used liberally.

What should I do if I have the flu?

According to the CDC, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people, except to receive medical care. If you are in a high risk group, including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions, or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider.

The flu is generally considered a mild illness, so you probably do not need to go to the emergency room unless you are suffering from symptoms such as difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, or flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever or worsening cough.

Rest and hydration are the two keys to overcoming illness. Over-the-counter medication can help with symptoms, but ensuring you have adequate rest and that you are taking in fluids is key. Water, soups, tea and sports drinks are all great ways to stay hydrated.

Avoid strenuous exercise – give your body time to recover. Supply your body with the fuel to recover by eating nutritious foods that are easy to digest.

Should I come to work?/leave work?

Studies have shown that flu viruses can spread throughout an entire building through the contamination of a single door handle or the handle of a coffee pot. Since the most contagious period of most illnesses is the beginning stage, even before you begin to feel really sick, you should err on the side of caution and stay home.

If you are beginning to feel ill while at work, especially if you begin to experience fevers or chills, you should alert your supervisor and go home immediately. Do not try to “tough it out” as you could spread your illness to others, especially if you work in an area where you are coming into contact with the public or with food going to the public. This includes attending meetings.

Medication may help mitigate the symptoms, but you are still contagious.  Also, some medications could interfere with your ability to do your job. You have to know yourself and make a decision.

Supervisors should recognize the severity of this year’s flu season and should encourage their employees to take adequate time to get well. If the sick employee has used a common space, desk or computer, that space should be wiped down with disinfecting wipes before being used by others.

When can I return to work/school?

The CDC recommends that individuals stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone – that is a temperature less than 100.4 degrees – without the use of a fever reducing medicine. This includes not going to work and school, but also not traveling, shopping or attending social events or public gatherings. If you must leave home, consider wearing a face mask or covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Finally, wash your hands often to keep them from spreading flu to others.