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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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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 1 With the Flu continued...

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.

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 fluvaccine.

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