Do I have flu, and how can I feel better?


With flu season under way in Vermont, you may be wondering how to best take care of yourself or a loved one with flu. Most people with flu can manage the illness at home without medical care. It’s recommended those sick with flu stay home as long as possible — ideally at least 7 days, when the illness is most infectious — to avoid spreading it to others. Read ahead for more on recovering from flu at home.

How do I know if I have the flu?

There are several tests that can determine whether or not you have the flu, however most people are not tested because the results usually don’t change how you are treated. Mostly, you can figure out if you have flu based on your symptoms.

Flu symptoms typically come on very fast. You may feel well in the morning and feel unwell before the end of the day. In comparison, symptoms of rhinovirus, the common cold, usually come on gradually over several days.

With flu, most, but not all, people will develop a fever, causing them to feel feverish or have chills. This is typically accompanied by muscle/body aches and any of the following symptoms: cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, headache, fatigue and/or vomiting/diarrhea.

Is there medication that can help me feel better?

Flu, along with other respiratory illnesses such as colds and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), are viral infections and cannot be treated with antibiotics. They won’t work! For flu, antiviral medications can lessen the severity and length of flu by a day or two. They can also prevent serious flu complications such as bacterial pneumonia.

For people at high risk of serious flu complications, antivirals are recommended promptly as they can mean the difference between a milder or more serious illness. These people include children younger than 2, adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, people with certain long-term medical conditions, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and anyone who is very sick with flu.

If you are at high-risk or are very sick with flu, call your primary healthcare provider right away as antivirals work best when started within 48 hours of feeling sick. Typically, providers don’t wait for a flu test — they’ll prescribe based on symptoms. Early reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that antivirals to treat flu are well matched to flu strains currently circulating.  

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Sarah Spengler, RN, is infection prevention and patient safety coordinator for UVM Health Network – Home Health & Hospice, serving patients of all ages in Chittenden and Grand Isle counties. Stay tuned for a second installment in this series, when Sarah shares home remedies that may help you feel better when you have the flu.

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