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The Flu and You: Your Urgent Response Guide

Try these step-by-step tips for the first 5 days with the flu.

Day 2 With the Flu

Try to protect the rest of the family and others from getting the flu. There's no surefire way. When the flu virus first infects someone, it multiplies quietly in body. This is called the incubation period. Once the person starts to get symptoms, they are excreting enough virus to give it to someone else. So you are exposed to the virus before you realize it.

But to lower your risk, everybody in the household should be vigilant about washing hands regularly, especially before and after you spend time with the sick person. According to the CDC, hand washing is a key defense against both seasonal flu and swine flu. When you're not near a sink, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

The person who has the flu should be reminded to cover his or her mouth when coughing, not cough toward other people, and wash hands often.

It's best for recovery and for preventing the spread of flu germs if the person who's sick stays in bed and gets plenty of rest. (As much as the other kids may want to play Candy Land on their sick sibling's bed, that's a recipe for a houseful of flu!)

If someone in your house is at particular risk from the flu -- an infant, elderly, frail grandparent, or someone with a compromised immune system such as a cancer patient -- make sure your doctor knows. Ask about getting your loved one a prescription for an antiviral flu medication, which can help that person avoid catching the flu. This is especially important if he or she hasn't yet had a flu vaccine.

Day 3 With the Flu

Some of the sufferer’s flu symptoms, like a cough, may be abating by now. (You can use a cough suppressant for adults and kids over age 6 if it’s still troublesome.) The fever is probably still over 100, though, and muscle aches can last for days.

If you notice any major change in symptoms, such as a serious spike in fever or shortness of breath, call your doctor.

"High spiking fevers and shortness of breath may signal a bacterial complication like pneumonia, sinusitis, or an ear infection, which can develop on top of the flu in a small number of people," says Holman.

Day 4 With the Flu

By now, both you and your flu sufferer are probably wondering: "When can I get out of here?" When is it OK for someone who's had the flu to go back to work or school?

When it comes to seasonal flu, use your symptoms as a guide. "Usually after most of the symptoms are gone -- the fever, the cough, and the muscle aches," says Holman. "You're probably well enough to go out at that point, and you're likely not particularly contagious. Viral shedding in respiratory secretions peaks at one to two days of illness, and really drops off after that. You may still have some residual fatigue for a few days after the other symptoms subside, but if that's the only symptom, it's probably OK to start resuming your activities."

You should limit contact with others while sick and stay home until fever is completely gone for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication). 

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