Like the common cold, influenza (commonly called "the flu") is a contagious illness caused by a virus that infects the respiratory system (nose, throat, bronchial passages, and lungs). It can cause mild or serious illness, and in some people it can be life threatening.
The influenza virus is very contagious, and spreads easily from person to person. It can be treated with specific antiviral medications, but the medicine is only effective if started in the first 2 days of symptoms. However, most healthy young adults recover without any treatment other than those for relief of symptoms.
The symptoms of the flu are similar to those of a cold, but usually start suddenly, and worsen more quickly than those of a cold. The main symptoms of the flu are fever, muscle or bodyaches, and harsh cough. While common, the fever may not occur in everyone with the flu. Other symptoms may include runny nose, sore throat, headaches, fatigue, and occasionally vomiting or diarrhea, though these last symptoms are more common in children.
The symptoms of the flu usually improve after 4-5 days, but may take up to 2 weeks to completely resolve. Some people will develop more serious complications such as pneumonia (infection in the air spaces of the lung) which can be life-threatening. While complications are more common in the very young or very old, or those with serious chronic medical problems, they can also occur in otherwise healthy young adults.
If you suspect that you have the flu, or are diagnosed with influenza by her healthcare provider, you should follow the instructions below:
1) Practice self-isolation until the fever is gone for 24 hours without the use of medication
- Stay home, did not go to class, and do not go out
- Stay 6 feet away from others
- Cover your cough
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing
- E-mail, text, or call your professors to explain your absence from class
2) Self-care measures:
- Take your temperature with a thermometer (you can get one from the Health Center pharmacy)
- If your temperature is greater than 100°F, stay in bed
- Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids
- Take acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil) as directed on the bottle label to reduce any fever or body aches
- Over-the-counter cough or cold medicines may be used if you wish, but will not make the virus go away or shorten the duration of symptoms
- Eat normal foods as tolerated, there is no need for any specific restrictions
- Watch for signs of more severe illness (below)
3) Signs of severe illness that mean you should be seen by a healthcare provider:
- Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Dehydration (not drinking enough fluids)
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Flu symptoms improved but then returned with fever and worsening cough