2018 Flu Treatment, Prevention and How to Care for Others

Make Your Primary Care Doctor Your First Call for Assessment

Flu activity is widespread across most of the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and southern New England is no exception. Officials at Rhode Island Department of Health report extremely busy emergency departments throughout the Providence area, with long waits for patients with less urgent needs. Additionally, Rhode Island has seen a significant number of other respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal infections caused by norovirus.

If you experience flu-like symptoms, you should first call or visit your primary care provider, who can quickly assess your health needs. By taking this step, you can avoid potentially long wait times at your nearby emergency department.

Your physician can also determine whether you need additional care because of the severity of symptoms or other risk factors, such as age (under 2 or over 65), pregnancy, a compromised immune system, or a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease or neurological disorders.  

Flu and Children

By Sabina Holland, MD

Each year, millions of children get sick with the flu and thousands are hospitalized. Some kids are at higher risk of serious complications:  those younger than five, and any child who has a chronic medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, or disorders of the brain or nervous system. However, even healthy children can develop complications. 

The best way to protect children is a yearly, injectable flu vaccine. It is not too late to get a shot. The vaccine protects your child against flu illnesses, which can reduce visits to the doctor and missed school days, and can prevent hospitalizations. 

Symptoms of the flu typically begin one to four days after exposure to the virus and, in children, last one to two weeks. In addition to the typical fever, cough, aches and fatigue, children are more likely than adults to suffer vomiting and diarrhea – which can lead to dehydration.

Call the pediatrician if your child develops a fever; starts breathing rapidly or has trouble breathing; is not drinking enough; is less responsive than normal; or has the flu, gets better, and then relapses with fever or cough.

Tips on caring for children with the flu:

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and body aches. Ibuprofen can be used for children six months of age and older; however, it should not be given to kids who are dehydrated or who are vomiting continuously. Do not give children aspirin unless directed to do so by a doctor.
  • Call your child’s doctor within 24 hours of the first flu symptom to ask about antiviral medications, especially if your child is at higher risk for flu-related complications.

Sabina Holland, MD, is a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

If you experience flu symptoms, you should first call or visit your primary care provider, who can quickly assess your health needs. By taking this step, you can avoid potentially long wait times at your nearby emergency department.

Finally, don’t ignore signs of worsening illness, including difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness, confusion, rash accompanying fever in children, persistent vomiting, or a relapse after improvement. Watch for signs of lethargy or dehydration, especially in infants and young children, including a lack of tears and fewer wet diapers or trips to the bathroom. These all should be reported to your doctor in a timely fashion as they may indicate the need for immediate care.

Flu Prevention

Of course, it is always important to minimize your risk of getting sick in the first place.

The first line of defense in preventing flu, or reducing severity of symptoms if you get the flu, remains the influenza vaccine.

“It’s not too late,” said Leonard Mermel, DO, ScM, director of epidemiology and infection control at Rhode Island Hospital. “Getting your vaccine as soon as possible can still reduce risk of flu.”

Mermel stresses, too, that frequently cleaning your hands, with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, is key. Those who have flu can easily spread germs even before symptoms appear, so while keeping your distance from people exhibiting coughs or sneezing is important, hand-washing helps minimize the spread of the flu and other contagious diseases.

Caring for Others

So, what to do if you find yourself or a loved one experiencing the characteristic symptoms of a respiratory viral infection, like sore throat, cough, runny nose, fever?

With these flu-like symptoms “don’t go to work or send a child to school as this will expose others,” Mermel says. “And if you’re caring for someone at home who is sick, stay three to six feet away to the extent possible, practice good hand hygiene, don’t share eating utensils, and ask the person to cover their cough with their elbow or sleeve.”

Signs and Symptoms of Flu

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly, not gradually:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (very tired)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More Information About the Flu

Learn more about the Flu from Living - A Lifespan blog: