A Mom’s Guide to Dealing with Flu (Influenza) by a Nurse

sick woman and man in bed blowing noses suffering from flu or influenza

After 8 flu seasons, er, years in an emergency room, I feel like I’ve seen pretty much everything. Yes, everything. In any case, I’ve worked through all sorts of injuries, traumas, and disease scares – including the dreaded swine flu. So take it from a nurse (who’s also a mom to 4 kiddos) who’s been in the trenches and seen all the health problems.

Flu symptoms (influenza) are easy to see and easy to miss

The flu (influenza, not the “stomach bug”) isn’t “no big deal”. And neither is dealing with those flu germs.

Okay, so cool trick real quick: part of the way that the CDC tracks the flu is by Google searches. Because unless you’re a nurse who’s writing about influenza, you’re probably not going to look it up unless you’re trying to figure out if you’ve got it (or someone in your family).

But if you do look up the most common influenza symptoms, here’s the CDC’s list of symptoms:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue (tiredness, exhaustion)
  • Vomiting & diarrhea (this is more common in kids, though, and rare in adults)

Now, when you keep in mind that not everyone who has the flu will get a fever, suddenly those symptoms are easy to mix with a cold. Especially if you don’t see flu all the time or aren’t sure if you were even exposed.

In fact, when my family came down with the flu this last year, I thought it was just a nasty cold until the second kid got it. Then I recognized it for what it was – influenza.

Does your family have a nasty cold instead of the flu? Here’s how to manage a cold.

The flu is a viral infection that’s highly contagious

Now, in case you’re wondering what the official status is with the flu, you can actually keep an eye on it with the CDC’s FluView website. But no matter its official status, it’s important to try to minimize your exposure to it. Because it’s highly, highly contagious.

There are 2 main ways to do that.

The first is to get a yearly flu shot. It’ll help minimize your chances of getting it. And if you do still catch the flu, having had your immunization shot will minimize the duration and severity of the sickness (in other words, you’ll be less sick than if you didn’t get the shot).

Not sure how to talk to your kids about vaccines? Here’s how to talk to your kids about the flu shot.

The other way to avoid getting influenza is to avoid everyone who’s sick or potentially sick (translation: avoid leaving the house) during influenza season. And since that varies each year – and can last from September until April… well, it’s hard to do.

Here are some other ways to try and avoid catching the flu:

  • Wash your hands – especially before you eat.
  • Don’t touch your face. Flu germs are everywhere, and you don’t want to give them easy access to your body.
  • Sneeze into the crook or bend of your elbow. It’s harder to touch stuff with your elbow, which means the germs are more contained and you’re preventing others from getting sick. Just remember to wash your elbow on a regular basis, okay?
  • Avoid sick people. Really. Reschedule – they’re too sick to complain anyway.
  • If you’re sick, stay home! Keep those germs away from other people as much as you can.
  • Don’t hesitate to see your doctor earlier than later – and if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution. The flu kills about 4,600 people per year.

Dealing with the flu? Treatment is rest and “symptom management”

If you do manage to catch influenza this year (like a lot of us have!), treatment is usually “rest” and “relaxation” and “symptom management.” I’d hope that “rest” is self-explanatory because when you’re sick you don’t feel like doing much other than resting – or sleeping. Then, if you’ve got a fever, your doctor will likely advise you to take something like Tylenol or ibuprofen to control the fever.

There’s a lot of medicine options out there, though, so make sure you ask your doctor. Especially if it’s for your kids – their dosing is based on weight, so growing kids’ doses change frequently.

And, while you’re talking to your doctor, if you do have influenza, they may recommend an antiviral like Tamiflu. Antibiotics won’t help, but if you catch the flu early, an antiviral like Tamiflu can make life a ton less miserable when dealing with the flu.

A word of caution, though… some years where the flu is crazy all-over, those antivirals can be in short supply. Which means they may be kept in reserve for those most at-risk (elderly, babies, pregnant women, and immunocompromised patients)…

At least that’s how it was back when we were all certain that the swine flu was going to cause a zombie apocalypse. I’d hope that they’ve improved the supply chain since then, but… *shrug* (they haven’t – we as a country still use crazy supply chain methods that don’t involve crazy amounts of stockpiling but do involve daily resupply)

In any case, influenza isn’t “no big deal”. It’s up to 2 weeks of feeling awful, coughing, sneezing, and wishing you could call in sick as a mom for the day. So if you can avoid it, do.

And if you can stay home so that others don’t get sick, do it. The rest of us will thank you.

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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