THE DETAILS: Last flu season, researchers found an increased resistance to the drug for the first time in the United States. Early indications for this year suggest the trend is getting much worse. More than 98% of this year’s A(H1N1) influenza viruses tested so far are resistant to the drug. Last season, 12% showed signs of resistance.
WHAT IT MEANS: Your best line of defense is taking preventative measures to avoid coming down with the flu in the first place. But if you do catch it, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself so you won’t need meds that are increasingly ineffective.
Here’s what you need to know about influenza:
• First, know the difference between cold and flu. You’ll rarely suffer fever and headaches with a cold, but flu patients typically run high fevers between 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and headaches are very common. Usually at the onset of the flu, you’ll feel exhausted, while you’ll never feel that way because of a cold. Aches and pains, severe cough, and severe chest discomfort are also more likely to be caused by the flu than a cold. Other flu-specific symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
• Try to prevent it. Basic hygiene is your first defense: Wash your hands often, don’t pick your nose, and keep unwashed hands out of your mouth to cut your risk of ingesting flu germs. Distance yourself from people you suspect or know have the illness—that includes your spouse. If your S.O. is sick, forget about kissing for awhile, and consider sleeping on the couch. Also, consider wearing a surgical mask in the presence of a flu-stricken family member; a recent study done in Australia found that doing so lowered the risk of catching the illness. And get a flu vaccine every September. (Didn’t get one this season? It may not be too late, since it takes only 2 weeks or so for protection to begin; check with your physician.)
• Put your doctor on the spot. If you’re in the hospital or at the doctor’s office, ask your health-care providers if they received the flu vaccine this season. Research shows they’re less likely to pass the virus along if they’ve been vaccinated. Also, make sure they wash their hands before touching you. “Hygiene measures, including hand washing, and protective measures, including the wearing of masks, are recommended for health-care workers handling influenza patients,” says lead study author Jairo Gooskens, MD, professor of microbiology at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
• Here’s what to do if you come down with the flu. Most people recover from the flu without any major complications. Older people, pregnant women, young children, and people with certain chronic conditions can become seriously ill from the flu and they or their caretakers should contact their doctor when they get sick. Here are some ways to take care of yourself, feel better, and support the recovery process:
1. Don’t go to work or school, you’ll prolong your illness and spread the virus.
2. Get plenty of rest—now is not the time to rearrange your living room furniture.
3. Drink a lot of fluids, and stay away from tobacco and alcohol.
4. Soak your feet in hot water to provide headache and congestion relief.
5. Ask for a back rub, it could help activate your immune system (the masseuse should wash his or her hands after, and maybe wear a surgical mask).
6. Eat. During the roughest patch of the flu, you may have no appetite. When you can stomach food again, good choices include dry toast, bananas, applesauce, boiled rice, rice pudding, oatmeal, and baked potatoes. If you have a sweet tooth, instead of filling a bowl with ice cream, peel and freeze a few overly ripened bananas, then puree them in a food processor.
• These signs constitute a flu emergency. In children: fast or labored breathing, bluish skin color, fever with a rash, the improvement and then return of flulike symptoms, not drinking enough fluids, not waking up or interacting, or being so irritable they won’t allow you to even hold them. In adults: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, or severe or persistent vomiting.