What is Influenza (Flu)?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness in the college age population. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine every year.
Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea as well.
How Flu Spreads
Flu viruses are mainly spread by tiny droplets when a person coughs, sneezes or talks. The droplets can land in the mouths and noses of others who are nearby. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching surfaces or objects that have the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
Period of Contagiousness
You may be able to spread flu to someone else before you know you are sick.
- People with flu are most contagious in the first 3 days after symptoms begin.
- Some otherwise healthy adults can begin to infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.
Onset of Symptoms
The time from when a person is exposed to when symptoms begin is about two days but can range from one to four days.
Complications of Flu
Complications of flu most commonly seen can include bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections and pneumonia. Persons with chronic medical conditions can experience a worsening of their condition.
Preventing Seasonal Flu
The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and risk of developing serious complications and hospitalization.
Monmouth University hosts monthly flu vaccination clinics during the Fall semester. It is best to get the annual flu vaccine in early fall each to provide protection throughout the flu season. It takes two weeks from time of the flu shot until protective immunity begins.
The CDC also recommends everyday preventive measures such as frequent handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, staying hydrated, good nutrition and getting plenty of sleep.
It is very difficult to distinguish flu from other respiratory viruses. Clinicians at the on-campus Health Center can test you for influenza using rapid flu kits and/or PCR swabs.
There are anti-viral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. They are best used when taken within 48 hours of the onset of illness. Health Center clinicians can prescribe anti-viral drugs to shorten the course of illness and make you feel better sooner.
The remainder of treatment is largely symptomatic. Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen for fever, chills, headache, throat pain. Take a decongestant (not an anti-histamine) for stuffy nose along with a saline nasal spray. Guiafenesin helps to thin mucus and break it up so you can clear your nasal and respiratory airways. Get rest and stay hydrated. When your fever is lowered by medication is a good time to take in nutrition such as soup. Don’t “starve” a fever.
Stay home or in your room if you are ill. Do not go to class, work, practice, internship, clinicals or attend social events if you are sick, have a fever and/or diagnosed with flu.
Course of Illness
Influenza symptoms typically last five to seven days. For people who have had a seasonal flu vaccine or have taken an anti-viral medication, it can be shorter. Even when symptoms resolve, you may feel fatigued.
Contact your healthcare provider or the Health Center (732-517-3464 or firstname.lastname@example.org) if symptoms are not improving.
If you develop difficulty breathing, seek emergency care by calling MUPD (732-571-4444) if on campus or 911 off-campus.
Return to Class/Work
Persons may return to class/work when they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.
Not everyone with flu will have a fever. If you have flu without a fever, you should stay home/in room for at least 4-5 days after onset of symptoms.