Battling the Flu: Effective Treatments, Home Care, and Preventive Measures Amidst COVID-19

Headache, muscle pain, fever, an irritated throat? Maybe you have the flu. What medications should you take for this viral disease? Can the symptoms be relieved with natural remedies? How do you monitor the development of complications?

In the US, seasonal flu epidemics usually start in October and end in April. They vary in intensity through the years. According to CDC, an average of 31 million people in the US are affected each year.

Person With The Flu

Person With The Flu

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Symptoms that last a week

The symptoms of the flu are well-known:

  • High fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • A runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • An irritated throat

Duration and how long does it take to recover?

The first five days are the hardest to get through, but the symptoms generally fade after seven to ten days. The flu is contagious a few days before the symptoms appear and throughout the duration, usually for about ten days.

What medication to use for treating the flu?

There is no specific treatment for the flu. Antiviral medications, oseltamivir (Tamiflu), and zanamivir (Relenza) have shown very limited efficacy in healthy adults, as they only reduce the duration of symptoms by one day. They are mainly used in hospitals to reduce the risk of complications. These medications can, eventually, be used in prevention, in subjects at risk of severe forms, and in cases of contact, for example, in nursing homes, to prevent the spread of an epidemic. But they must be administered within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.

In reality, we only have symptomatic treatments against the flu for fever, cough, and nose congestion. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses and should only be prescribed in case of bacterial superinfection that affects, in particular, the lungs.

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What to take to lower the fever?

Fever is a natural mechanism that helps the body fight the flu virus. It is only sought to be reduced if it is poorly tolerated, with intense headaches, for example.

Tylenol (Acetaminophen/Paracetamol)

As the first option In this case, the drug of choice is Tylenol.

  • For an adult over 60 kg, the maximum dose is 4 grams per day
  • For an older person or a patient with kidney or liver disease, it should not exceed 3 grams per day
  • In a child, the maximum dose is 60 milligrams per kilo per day.

Ibuprofen is not recommended

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are not recommended in case of fever or infection as these medications can mask symptoms like fever or pain, leading to a delay in treatment and, as a consequence, a risk of complications of the infection

be careful with over-the-counter medications

In recent years, there have been increasing warnings against cough and cold medications. These products, many of which are available without a prescription in pharmacies, can have serious side effects. Many of these medications contain pseudoephedrine, a vasoconstrictor that can have rare but serious side effects, such as a myocardial infarction or stroke.

Similarly, cough medications contain potentially addictive molecules that can cause excessive drowsiness and can lead to respiratory depression. Therefore, these medications should not be used in older people and are contraindicated in children. Their use should be limited as much as possible in adults. The use of a medication is never trivial. Regardless of the form of administration, the molecules pass into the blood and can have harmful effects in the short or medium term.

A cough is a natural and indispensable defense reflex of the body that helps to drain the respiratory tract. It is only treated if it is very bothersome. In this case, the simplest solutions are often the best.

What are the home remedies for the flu?

Hot drinks can help soothe sore throats. With a spoonful of honey, it’s even better. The analysis of several scientific studies, published in August 2020 in the British Medical Journal, suggests that honey relieves cough and nasal congestion more effectively than standard treatments. However, honey is not recommended for children under 1 year old.

When the nose is congested or runny, it is more effective to perform regular washes with saline water, using a spray. The saline solution will fluidify the secretions and facilitate the evacuation of microbes and dust adhered to the mucosa.

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Watch for signs of complications

In some people, these symptoms persist or worsen. Signs such as high fever for more than three days, altered consciousness, breathing difficulties, chest tightness, dehydration, weight loss, and feeding difficulties should be taken seriously. It is important to be attentive to these warning signs in an older person, a baby, a pregnant woman, or anyone weakened by a chronic illness.

Sometimes, hospitalization is necessary. Sometimes a COVID-19 test is also necessary because the flu and COVID-19 have many symptoms in common: fever, muscle aches, headaches… In the current context, the risk of coronavirus spread is feared. Therefore, it is recommended to consult a doctor to assess the opportunity to perform a Sars-Cov2 detection test in anyone who presents this type of symptoms; the goal is to isolate the patient if necessary and trace their contacts. Faced with a patient who presents suggestive symptoms, the general practitioner evaluates the situation and decides whether it is appropriate to prescribe, or not, a COVID-19 diagnostic test to rule out this possibility. If the test is negative, it will be more in favor of a flu diagnosis. A double test for flu and COVID-19, performed on the same nasal sample, is indicated in certain situations such as for hospitalized patients or residents in a medical-social establishment and for children. It is more often carried out in a hospital setting.

Indispensable prevention measures against viruses

To prevent the spread wash hands regularly, wear a mask, cough, and sneeze into the elbow, and ventilate regularly. These simple measures help limit the spread of flu and Covid-19 viruses. When a case of flu is declared in a household, it is recommended to wear a mask, during the duration of the symptoms, to protect the most vulnerable.

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Get Vaccinated

Vaccination remains the best way to protect the most vulnerable against the flu. It helps prevent severe forms of the disease. People at risk, their relatives, and caregivers should be vaccinated. Every year, the vaccination campaign begins in mid-October and ends at the end of January.

People at risk such as those over 65 years old, obese people, pregnant women, babies at risk, and immunocompromised patients must be vaccinated first. It is perfectly possible to postpone vaccination until December for healthy adults who also want to be vaccinated against the flu.  Keep in mind though that the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19.

People who work in contact with patients at risk of severe flu, such as home helpers or emergency and firefighter services, should also get vaccinated. In the context of the Covid-19 epidemic, people at risk are invited to receive another dose of the coronavirus vaccine, at the same time as the flu vaccination, which means a single appointment for two injections.

References

Abuelgasim, H., Albury, C., & Lee, J. (Year). Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://ebm.bmj.com/content/26/2/57

National Institutes of Health. Influenza. COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines. https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/special-populations/influenza/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summary for Clinicians: Antiviral Medication for Flu. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/summary-clinicians.htm

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