You can take all the precautions in the world, but sometimes the flu sneaks around your defenses. So what do you do when someone in your house has the flu -- or even swine flu?
To give you an idea, here's a countdown of five average days with the flu. Keep in mind that this rundown is based on a typical case of seasonal flu. There's still a lot we don't know about swine flu. But so far, its symptoms seem to be pretty similar to those of common seasonal flu viruses.
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Your child or your spouse feels achy and has a fever. He was fine yesterday, but today he feels like he was hit by a truck. (The flu comes on fast -- much more quickly than the common cold.) It's probably the flu. What do you do?
First, don't panic. Obviously, given the recent outbreaks, you're going to worry that your loved one has swine flu. Just remember that there are plenty of other viruses -- including more common flu viruses -- that can cause similar symptoms. Even if it is swine flu, most cases in the U.S. have actually had fairly mild symptoms.
Next, call your doctor. You don't always need a diagnosis. Flu symptoms are pretty obvious. If your loved one is at increased risk of having contracted swine flu -- because he or she came in contact with someone who had it, or traveled to an area with an outbreak -- the doctor may want to take a sample and send it away for testing. The doctor also needs to know if your loved one suffers from any other conditions or chronic illnesses.
Ask your doctor if you should get an antiviral flu medication. These drugs, like Tamiflu and Relenza, can shorten the flu's duration by a couple of days and possibly lessen its intensity as well. But if they're not taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, they're not as effective. Both drugs work against the swine flu as well run-of-the-mill seasonal flu viruses. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have a lung condition such as asthma. You may need to take special precautions if you take some anti-flu medications.
Even if you get the prescription in time, flu sufferers are in for an uncomfortable few days at least. The worst of the seasonal flu is generally three to five days, but symptoms can last a week or so. When family members have the flu:
Make them comfortable.
Give them plenty of fluids.
Keep them in bed.
You can ease symptoms like fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, says Robert P. Holman, MD, an infectious disease specialist in private practice at Virginia Hospital Center and an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine.
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to young children. Avoid aspirin in children under 18 because it can cause Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious disease that causes brain swelling and liver damage. Talk to your child's health care provider about what medicines are safe to treat your child's symptoms.