What to do when flu strikes

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With recent reports of widespread flu activity in the U.S., many are worried about what to do if they happen to fall ill with the flu.

According to Susan Rehm, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic, if a person starts to feel sick, the flu can usually be distinguished from other illnesses by checking for five specific symptoms.

“There are five different symptoms and we remember them by the word ‘FACTS’ – meaning a person would experience fever, aches, chills, tiredness of sudden onset,” said Dr. Rehm.

Dr. Rehm said experts have seen a more severe flu season thus far, in part because of the particular strain of flu that is dominating, known as H3N2, which is a type of influenza A. And while certain variations of the flu can be more troublesome than others, she said any flu can be dangerous if proper precautions are not taken.

If you suspect that you have the flu, Dr. Rehm said the first thing to do is stop what you’re doing, get home, get adequate rest and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Those with heart, lung, or kidney problems, as well as pregnant women, young children, elderly and people who are obese are at an increased risk for complications from the flu. She said those with such underlying medical conditions should talk to their doctor about taking prescription anti-viral flu medications.

Anti-viral flu medications can help lessen symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu, making it less likely to suffer complications. Because the flu is very contagious, it’s essential to stay home from work and keep children home from school when experiencing flu-like symptoms. In fact, a recent study said in the early stages of flu, a person can spread the flu to others just by breathing.

Dr. Rehm said this makes sense, because the flu is a respiratory illness that lives in the throat. “You don’t want to expose other people to the flu,” she said. “It is spread by the air, so as long as you’re out and talking to people, coughing and breathing, that potentially spreads the flu to other people.”

Dr. Rehm said it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine. Even though the vaccine cannot guarantee that you won’t catch any flu, any protection is better than none at all.

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