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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 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).

Day 5 With the Flu

Think about getting the seasonal flu vaccine for the family. If you haven't gotten vaccinated yet, this is an excellent time to do it -- while you still remember how miserable the flu can be. (Because there are different strains of flu, you can get the flu more than once in a year.) The 2010-2011 seasonal flu vaccine covers three strains of flu, including the H1N1 swine flu.

It takes about two weeks for the seasonal flu vaccine's protection to kick in, so "sooner rather than later" is a good rule. Flu season stretches from fall to spring, so even if you haven't gotten the vaccine by early winter, you still need the protection.

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