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Five days of flu

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

You can take all the precautions in the world, but sometimes the flu sneaks around your defences. So what do you do when someone in your house has the flu?

To give you an idea, here's a countdown of five average days with the flu. Keep in mind that this rundown is based on a typical case of seasonal flu.

Day one with the flu

Your child or your partner feels achy, shivery, has a headache and a temperature. The flu comes on fast - much more quickly than the common cold. It's probably the flu. What do you do?

Get plenty of rest, in bed or sitting down, if possible. Drink plenty of fluids. Paracetamol or ibuprofen may help reduce the temperature, aches and pains.

For children, and if you’re concerned about an adult, seek medical advice by phone, but don’t go to the GP’s surgery. Flu symptoms are quite obvious. If your loved one is at increased risk of having contracted flu - because he or she came in contact with someone who had it, or travelled to an area with an outbreak - health professionals may ask questions about whether your loved one suffers from any other conditions or chronic illnesses. People with pre-existing medical conditions and women who are pregnant are more at risk from complications from flu.

Seek medical advice about whether you should get an antiviral flu medication. These drugs - oseltamivir and zanamivir - can shorten the flu's duration by a  day or so and possibly lessen its intensity as well. However, if they're not taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, they're not as effective. Tell medical staff if you have a lung condition such as asthma. You may need to take special precautions if you take some anti-flu medications.

Antivirals are normally only prescribed to people in at-risk groups, but doctors can use clinical discretion about people outside those groups.

Even if you get the prescription in time, flu sufferers are in for an uncomfortable few days at least. The worst of the seasonal flu is generally three to five days, but symptoms can last a week or more. When family members have the flu:

  • Make them comfortable.
  • Give them plenty of fluids.
  • Make sure they rest.
  • You can ease symptoms like high temperature with paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Changes to promote the safer use of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children under 12 in the UK were brought in in recent years. The new advice is that parents and childminders should no longer use over-the-counter cough and cold medicines containing a range of ingredients in children under age six. For six to 12 year olds, these medicines will continue to be available but will be sold only in pharmacies, with clearer advice on the packaging and from the pharmacist.

Age-appropriate children's paracetamol and ibuprofen for high temperature are not part of the restriction. Avoid aspirin though in children under 16, in whom it's been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious disease that causes brain swelling and liver damage.

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