Once I’ve received the shot, what else can I do to prevent the flu?
Dr. Roach: The best bet is to avoid people who are sick. Since that isn’t completely possible, frequent hand-washing and being careful not to touch your face and mouth except after hand-washing is important. No supplements have been shown to protect against getting flu.
How can I tell the difference between the flu and the common cold?
Dr. Roach: The flu has sudden onset of fever, muscle aches (often severe), a cough, and maybe a runny nose. A cold does not have significant fever usually and lacks the severe muscle aches. A cold does not come on so quickly, and it causes a sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and a cough.
If it turns out I have the flu, should I see a doctor?
Dr. Tung: If you suspect that you have the flu, you should consult with a doctor as soon as possible. There is a window of opportunity, typically two days, for optimal benefit from antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, so a swift decision on whether this treatment is indicated should be made. Even if supportive care is all that will be recommended, guidance on which over-the-counter remedies to take (to avoid unnecessary medicines) should be made with your healthcare provider. A phone consultation is a good place to start, as it is advisable to stay at home to minimize the spread of the virus if safe and possible.
How effective is Tamiflu in treating flu symptoms?
Dr. Roach: Tamiflu really works, although it certainly isn’t perfect. Most studies show it speeds up getting better by half a day to two days. It does seem to reduce the dreaded complications of flu, including hospitalization and pneumonia. It should be given as soon as possible after onset of symptoms.
What should I do if my symptoms are not clearing up?
Dr. Tung: Most patients will gradually improve within a week, although some can have persistent fatigue for several weeks. If there is progression of high temperatures, shortness of breath, chest pain, lethargy, or severe weakness, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Any other tips for how to fight the flu?
Dr. Tung: Support your immune system during the illness with adequate rest, good nutrition, and generous hydration while fighting the flu. Treating high fevers with over-the-counter medications will decrease your risk of inadvertent dehydration. Hand hygiene will minimize the spread in the office and the household.
For more information on how to protect yourself and your family from the flu this season, visit here.
Dr. Judy Tung is section chief of ambulatory internal medicine and chair of the department of medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital and an associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Dr. Keith Roach is an associate professor of clinical medicine in the division of general medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an internist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.