Symptoms of the flu, whether it's 2009 novel H1N1 (swine) flu or seasonal flu are the same and include:
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy Nose
- body aches
- vomiting and/or diarrhea (sometimes)
Diagnosing the Flu
If you have any of the above symptoms, it's important to visit your doctor for a diagnosis as soon as possible. Your physician's office will probably want you to wear a face mask to avoid contaminating any other patients or staff.
Your doctor may want to do a nasal swab test, which involves rubbing the inside of your nose with a cotton-tipped swab. The nasal swab test can diagnose the flu and tell your doctor whether you have seasonal flu or the H1N1 flu virus. Treatment for the two types of flu may be different, so getting a proper diagnosis can be very important.
If you are unable to go to the doctors office, be sure to let your hospice or health care agency know that you are having symptoms so they can make a visit and bring necessary supplies. Your nurse should bring out gloves, face masks, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It's unlikely that you will be tested for the flu, but you will be treated as though you are infected with the flu virus just the same.
There is no cure for the flu. Because hospice and palliative care patients are at high risk for serious complications from the flu, it's important to get prompt treatment. Currently there are two medications that are routinely used to treat the flu. Tamiflu and Relenza may be used early on in a flu infection to lessen the severity of symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. They may also be used in high risk individuals who have been exposed to the flu virus to prevent an infection.
This may mean that a hospice or palliative care patient who has been in close contact with someone who has the flu might need medication, even if they aren't having symptoms of the flu yet.
Other medications may be used to treat flu symptoms and may include:
- Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen), to reduce a fever and relieve mild pain
- decongestants, to open the nasal passages
- cough suppressants and expectorants, to relieve a cough
- vitamins, like Vitamin C, to support the immune system
- other herbal and natural remedies, such as zinc
Aside from medication, the best treatment for the flu is rest -- and plenty of it. Eating a healthy diet can also help support the immune system, although your appetite will likely be diminished. A piping hot bowl of chicken soup is still one of Mother Nature's best remedies. One of the most important things you can do when suffering with the flu is to stay hydrated. Increase fluid intake by keeping a glass of water, juice, or herbal tea with you throughout the day. Ideally, you should be drinking two to three liters of fluid daily.
Preventing the Spread of the Flu Virus
Not only do you have to worry about getting better but you also have to worry about keeping those around you from contracting your virus. There are some simple steps you can take to prevent spreading the flu virus to those around you.
- Keep tissues handy and use one when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of tissues in a trash bag that can be tied up to prevent cross-contaminating other areas.
- Wash your hands often and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer between washes to kill flu germs on your hands.
- Use sanitizing sprays or wipes to kill germs on hard surfaces like counter tops, door handles, and light switches.
- Wear a face mask if you will be spending time in common areas of the household with other people or if you go out in public.
Keep in mind that you are considered contagious until at least 24 hours after your fever goes away on its own (without the use of medication to lower it). The average length of a contagious flu is one week so plan accordingly.
H1N1 Flu: Updated Interim Recommendations for the Use of Antiviral Medications in the Treatment and Prevention of Influenza for the 2009-2010 Season. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Accessed September 29, 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu/recommendations.htm
Use of antiviral drugs against influenza A(H1N1). World Health Organization (WHO). Accessed September 29, 2009. http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/frequently_asked_questions/swineflu_faq_antivirals/en/index.html