How to manage and prevent spreading the flu


February is typically a peak month for flu activity. The flu is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus, which can lead to serious illness or even death.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend patients over 6 months old get the flu shot. While early vaccination is best, it isn’t too late to be vaccinated. Though flu season usually peaks in winter, flu activity can occur through May.

Most people who get the flu will recover within two weeks without medical attention. Some people are more likely to have flu complications that need medical care or hospitalization. Those at a higher risk for flu-related complications include:

  • Children younger than 2 (children between 2 and 5 are at moderate risk)
  • Adults who are over age 65, particularly those who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • Women who are pregnant or have children younger than 2 weeks old
  • People with a chronic medical condition such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes

Simple home care steps

The flu can affect you differently than a cold, coming on quickly and causing these symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

To manage these symptoms and prevent spreading the flu, take these five easy steps:

  1. Stay at home to avoid spreading the virus. If you had a fever, you should be fever-free for at least 24 hours before leaving the house (except to see a medical provider). If you must leave your home, wear a face mask or use a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  2. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce a fever or ease pain and discomfort.
  3. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  4. Rest often to give your body the time and energy it needs to recover.

When to seek medical attention

Those in the high-risk category should get care immediately if they experience flu symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to decrease the length or severity of flu symptoms and prevent complications. These drugs are most effective when started within two days of the onset of symptoms.

Take children to their physician or an urgent care center when they have these flu warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dehydration (not enough fluids)
  • Extreme lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Fever with a rash
  • Recurrence of flu symptom with fever and cough

Adults should seek medical care if they have the warning signs above, plus:

  • Abdominal or chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Severe vomiting

These warning signs indicate that you should reach out to your primary care physician or seek prompt medical attention. UCLA also has several urgent care centers in the Los Angeles area.