The Flu: What To Do

Flu symptoms usually have a sudden onset and are more severe than those of a common cold.  Symptoms often include:

  • Fever > 101 F
  • Cough (usually dry or not much mucous production)
  • Muscle aches which may include backache
  • Headache
  • Fatigue that can last for 2-3 weeks
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

What causes the flu?    

The flu is contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus. The body usually recovers from the flu in seven to fourteen days. The worst symptoms are usually better within several days, but the fatigue may take longer to resolve.

How can I help myself feel better?

  • Drink plenty of clear fluids such as water, juice, herbal tea, non-caffeinated soda
  • Don’t smoke
  • Get lots of rest

How can I avoid spreading the infection?

  • Avoid close contacts and stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings until your fever is gone for at least 24 hours.  Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines.   
  • Wash your hands frequently, dispose of used tissues and cover your cough with your elbow to avoid further spread of the flu to others.   Wear a facemask if you have to go out, especially if to seek health care.

(You do not need a note for your WWU instructors if you miss fewer than 5 days of class due to the flu.During flu season you can notify your instructors that you have the flu.See the SHC website for more information.)

For specific symptoms these suggestions may help:

  • Take a lukewarm bath or sponge bath to relieve fever--but avoid getting too cold—which may cause you to chill.
  • Inhale warm steam from the shower or a warm drink to thin lung secretions and soothe cough.
  • Apply warm compresses to aching muscles.
  • Gargle with ¼ teaspoon salt/1 cup of water, suck on ice cubes or throat lozenges, drink warm tea with lemon and honey to soothe a sore throat.
  • Take over the counter pain relievers for pain and fever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen)   Follow dosing recommendations and precautions on the package closely.  Do NOT take aspirin when you have the flu as it is associated with a complication called Reye’s syndrome.
  • Over the counter cough medicines such as Guafenesin with Dextromethorphan (e.g. Robitussin DM) may help some with cough relief.

Are there prescription medicines to treat the flu?

There are “antiviral” drugs your doctor may prescribe in some cases for treating the flu.  These drugs may make you better faster and may also prevent serious complications especially for those at risk.   A flu test is generally done in the office prior to prescribing this and it does not work as well after 2-3 days of symptoms.

How do I lower my risk of getting the flu in the future?

  • Get a flu vaccine every year. 
  • Wash hands before eating and after public contact. 
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy diet, regularly exercise and get adequate rest.

What are warning signs of flu complications?

  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Severe pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Dark urine
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe pain or stiffness in the neck

If you are in a high risk group and develop flu symptoms, it’s best for you to contact your doctor or Student Health Center early in your illness.   Explain about your high risk status for flu.  People at high risk for complications should be considered for prescription antiviral medicine as early as possible, because benefit is greatest if treatment is started within 2 days after illness onset. These conditions that may be a higher risk for complications:

  • Asthma or other chronic lung conditions (such as Cystic Fibrosis)
  • Some neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
  • Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease)
  • Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
  • Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes)
  • Kidney or liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as HIV, AIDS , cancer or chronic steroids)
  • People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • People with extreme obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or more) 

Adapted from: