Colds and flu: I’m sick, what should I do?

Many people are sick with colds and flu this season. U.S. Navy photo

Naval Hospital Jacksonville Public Affairs

It’s that time of year, when colds and influenza spread across the country, bringing discomfort to many. And the flu is peaking earlier this year than usual, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

First, let’s talk about colds. Then we’ll talk about flu.

There is no cure for the common cold, which is caused by a virus. Antibiotics won’t help; they don’t work against viruses. Taking unnecessary antibiotics can also make it harder for your body to fight future bacterial infections.

To feel better when you have a cold, get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. (Yep, just like your mom told you.) Over-the-counter medicines might help ease your symptoms. But they won’t make the cold go away any faster. Always read the label and use as directed. Be especially careful with children and cold medicine.Some medicines have ingredients not recommended for children.

Cold symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches. Most people recover within about seven to 10 days. But people with weakened immune systems, asthma, or respiratory conditions might develop serious illness, such as pneumonia.

To reduce your risk of getting a cold:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash for 20 seconds. Help young children do the same. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Viruses that cause colds can live on your hands.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with un-washed hands.

• Stay away from people who are sick.

To protect others, if you have a cold:

• Stay at home while you’re sick.

• Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.

• Move away from people before coughing or sneezing.

• Cough and sneeze into a tissue, and then throw it away. Or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve. Either way, completely cover your mouth and nose.

• Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

• Disinfect surfaces and objects that you touch often (such as toys, doorknobs, light switches, faucet handles, keyboards, and cell phones). Call your doctor, if you or your child has one or more of these:

• Temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Symptoms that last more than 10 days.

• Symptoms that are severe or unusual.

• If your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever, always call your doctor right away. Your doctor can determine if you or your child has a cold, and can recommend therapy to relieve symptoms.

Now, on to influenza:

You might have the flu, if you have some or all of these symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.

Most people with the flu have mild illness, and don’t need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities.

Your fever should be gone without the use of fever medicine (like Tylenol). Stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.

While you’re sick with flu: stay away from others, wash your hands often, and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If you must leave home, wear a face mask if you have one.

People who are only mildly ill shouldn’t go to the emergency room. If you go to the ER and you don’t have the flu, you might catch it from people who do have it. If you have flu symptoms and are in a high-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your doctor. High-risk groups include: young children (age younger than 5, and especially younger than age 2), people age 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease). High-risk patients should contact your doctor early in your illness. Remind them of your high-risk status for flu, and ask about antiviral treatment.

If anyone has any of these emergency warning signs of flu sickness, go to the ER:


• Fast breathing or trouble breathing

• Bluish skin color

• Not drinking enough fluids

• Not waking up, or not interacting

• Being so irritable that the child doesn’t want to be held

• Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough

• Fever with a rash

• Infants: in addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

• Unable to eat

• Trouble breathing

• No tears when crying

• Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal


• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

• Sudden dizziness

• Confusion

• Severe or persistent vomiting

• Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and worse cough

For 24/7 clinical advice, call the Nurse Advice Line at 800-TRICARE (800-874-2273).

You can also email your doctor for non-urgent issues, using RelayHealth secure email messaging. Go to the TRI-CARE Online Patient Portal at or

To find out more, visit CDC at

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Category: News