No one likes influenza, or the flu. The muscle aches, the fever, the fatigue, and everything else about it make life miserable. So what do you do when you or your partner get it? Here’s how we handle it.
Influenza or a cold?
One of the first things you need to figure out is if you have the flu or something else. The table below is reproduced from the CDC.
|Aches||Common and severe||Slight|
|Chest congestion/Cough||Common, can be severe||Mild to moderate|
Of course, no one presents typically all the time. Our last experience here at home had no fever, but a lot of nasal congestion and runny nose. We know it was the flu because a trip to urgent care included a positive result for Influenza A.
Our advice? If you know influenza is present in your community or office, get tested by a doctor. If you catch it soon enough, you can reduce transmission to others and get antivirals.
Taking care of the kids
When you or your partner has the flu, the healthy one has to take over. Influenza is contagious, and kids, especially little ones, are at increased risk of complications from influenza. Of course, this means that the other parent is going to be saddled with extra work of caring for the kids and their sick partner.
Influenza spreads through coughing and sneezing. Facemasks can be used by the sick partner to reduce transmission, though they aren’t perfect. Those who aren’t sick should remember to wash their hands with warm water and soap, avoid sharing items with the sick person, and keep physical contact to a minimum.
We also don’t advocate taking the kids to Grandma’s while your partner is sick.
For one thing, you need to help your partner get better. Depending on the severity, the simple act of walking to the bathroom might be exhausting. Additionally, even in healthy people, complications from influenza can show up and require a hospital visit.
Second, you might already be sick. Influenza can spread a day before symptoms appear. So you could be a Typhoid Mary for your parents or in-laws and spread the infection. Those who are 65 and older are at increased risk for influenza complications. So be a good son or son-in-law and stay away.
Asking for help
Taking care of your partner and kids at the same time will be exhausting. If that’s the case, you need to ask for help. Explain what’s going on to someone and let them make the decision about helping out. The worst they can do is say no. Alternatively, they could run errands for you, saving you the trouble of packing up the kids or leaving them with your sick partner.
You should also be aware of complications like pneumonia, sinus infection, or worse. If your partner shows new symptoms, like a high fever, sinus pain, trouble breathing, or anything else that is concerning, get them to a doctor or urgent care. Sometimes influenza results in hospitalization or death, and it can happen fast. This is especially true among kids and older adults, or anyone with other medical complications like asthma or heart disease.
For next year
It’s not perfect because influenza is very adaptable. Unlike chicken pox, getting the flu won’t protect you from the next one, because there are multiple strains going around every year. And those strains easily change, because they can mix, and not just the ones that infect humans.
The vaccine will at least give your immune system an idea of what it will see in the next 12 months. That allows you a chance to shut influenza down before it gets too bad and you end up with a mild case with fewer complications. And not only does it protect you, but if you have little ones or friends and family with compromised immune systems, it helps them too.
The 2017-18 flu season now considered one of the worst in the last 15 years. The CDC reports that hospitalizations from laboratory-confirmed influenza have spiked in the last few weeks. One oddity over prior years is that rather than 0-4 year olds being hospitalized at the second highest rate, it’s the 50-64 year olds. 65+ still is by far the most hospitalized, and most of all hospitalizations occur among people who already have another medical condition that makes influenza worse. Some theories as to why 50-64 year olds are being hospitalized more frequently is that vaccination rates for that group are terrible. The CDC and local doctors focus on the young and old since they are high-risk for developing complications from influenza. But this is a reminder that anyone can develop complications, but it’s especially true if you have other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma.
And remember, one of the complications from influenza is death. Studies show that a child who is vaccinated has mortality rates that are much lower than non-vaccinated peers. So while the tears suck and the sore arm is inconvenient for a couple of days, the only reason to not get the vaccine is for medical reasons… which is why everyone else who can be vaccinated should be.