The University Record, January 29, 2001

Doctors offer tips for coping with flu

By Kara Gavin
Health System Public Relations

It’s coming our way: the yearly influenza outbreak that creeps across the country in the winter months. Michigan’s first cases have already been spotted.

Jeffrey Desmond, lecturer in emergency medicine, and Marie Lozon, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of emergency medicine, offer advice on coping with the flu.

  • Get a flu shot.

    The delays in production of the flu vaccine are over, and there’s still time to get a shot and build immunity before the epidemic hits. Flu vaccinations are especially important for people age 65 and older, those who have chronic illnesses and health care workers. For more information on vaccine clinics, call Michigan Visiting Nurses (MVN), (734) 477-7252, 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Mon.–Fri. Businesses and organizations can schedule a clinic at their locations by calling MVN.

  • Wash your hands.

    Washing thoroughly with soap and water reduces the chance that viruses from surfaces and other people will get into your eyes, nose or mouth, and from there into your body.

  • Don’t share germs.

    Keep children from sharing toys with others who may be sick, and clean up used tissues carefully. Also, cover your mouth when you cough.

  • Recognize the first symptoms.

    The flu develops quickly, Desmond says, so you can be pretty sure that you’ve got it if you suddenly develop fever, aches, headache, sore throat, cough and chills. Most symptoms will disappear within five days, though the cough can linger longer.

  • Learn to spot flu in your kids.

    It’s hard for parents to know when their children have the flu, Lozon said, because kids can’t always describe exactly what symptoms they’re feeling, and many other winter infections have similar symptoms. But just like in adults, the flu hits kids fast and hard. They may react by acting fussy, miserable and cranky; crying frequently; and saying they hurt all over.

  • Know what isn’t the flu.

    Since influenza infects your respiratory, or breathing, system, you shouldn’t blame the flu if you get nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms are more likely caused by gastroenteritis, another viral infection that takes hold in the digestive system. And children can get other viral infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), that seem similar to the flu. For more information on RSV, visit the Web at www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/rsv.htm.

  • Attack fast.

    If you’re in the flu’s early stages, you have some new—and some tried-and-true—options.

    The new options are antiviral drugs, called Relenza and Tamiflu, that can be taken within a few days of the onset of symptoms and may shorten the time you’re sick and help prevent complications. Many primary care physicians can prescribe these new drugs, which were approved for use only recently, but the therapies aren’t appropriate for everyone and may cause side effects.

    Desmond says he can’t emphasize enough the importance of drinking lots of fluids. Even though the flu may kill your appetite, it’s crucial to get plenty of water, sports drinks, diluted juices, herbal tea, uncaffeinated sodas and soup. Fluids help prevent the dizziness, dry mouth and decreased urination that are the marks of dehydration.

    He also notes that pain relievers such as acetominophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can ease fever, aches and pains. Lozon cautions strongly that children, teens and young adults with the flu should never take aspirin, because it can increase the risk of Reyes syndrome. Lozon also recommends warm—never cold—baths or showers for children who can tolerate them.

  • Watch for complications.

    The flu’s effect on your body can allow other infections to creep in, causing secondary problems, or complications. Infants, the elderly and those with existing health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are especially vulnerable.

    If symptoms are not easing after a few days, even with fever medications, hydration and other tactics, call your doctor. If you or your child has the flu and develops a change in alertness or mental status, dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or chest pain, go to the emergency room.