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Health Matters: Don’t Be Bugged by the Flu

Tips for fighting the influenza virus


Nancy Morton, a registered nurse with Maxim Health Systems, gives a flu shot to Ryan Conrath (COM’08). Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

You feel fine one day, but the next you have a cough, a headache, chills, and a runny nose. At this time of year, there’s a good chance you’ve got the flu.

The flu — also known as influenza — is a contagious respiratory illness spread through coughing and sneezing. It’s easy to spread, because most healthy adults can infect others the day before they notice their own symptoms and up to five days after they become sick. It’s no wonder that every year in the United States between 5 and 20 percent of the population gets the flu.

So what do you do if you’re infected? Your best bet is to drink liquids and stay in bed.

Still healthy, and looking to stay that way? BU Today spoke with David McBride, director of Student Health Services, for tips on staying infection-free this flu season.

BU Today: How do you know when you have the flu?
Flu is typically very sudden in onset, and it’s associated with high fever, lots of muscle aches, and a dry cough.

How is it different from the common cold?
It tends to be more severe.

What can you do to protect yourself against the flu?
Even though we’re already into flu season, there can still be some benefit from getting a flu shot, and Student Health Services is still offering them. Students who already have the flu should try to isolate themselves from campus so that they’re not coughing and sneezing all over their friends.

What about day-to-day practices to avoid getting sick?
Handwashing is extremely important, but you want to wash your hands for a full minute — which is longer than most people do. Use warm water and plenty of soap, regular or antibacterial are both fine. You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the day — before you eat and whenever you might be touching your face.

Is there anything you can do to treat the flu?
Rest, fluids, and medication for pain and cough are usually your best options. If the flu is more severe, we usually recommend medication — which doesn’t cure it, but shortens the duration and perhaps the severity. There are two main types of flu: Type A and Type B. What we’ve found from the Centers for Disease Control is that this year, the Type B flu is still responsive to Tamiflu, a type of flu medication. Type A is not responsive and potentially needs to be treated with a combination of medicines.

At what point should people consider seeing a doctor or visiting Student Health Services?
We’re always happy to see anybody who isn’t feeling that great. If someone is convinced they have the flu and they can manage to put themselves to bed and drink lots of fluids, we don’t necessarily need to see them. We’re always willing to offer advice over the phone for folks who don’t want to venture out and who would rather stay in bed.

But I would say if you can’t keep yourself hydrated and the symptoms are continuing for three days at a high level of severity without much improvement, that would be the time to check in just to make sure that it’s not something else in addition to the flu.

Student Health Services will be holding a flu clinic for students on Wednesday, February 11, from noon to 7 p.m. in the Dance Studio Lobby at 10 Buick St. The cost of a flu shot is $30; students must pay with their student account.

Amy Laskowski can be reached amlaskow@bu.edu.


2 Comments on Health Matters: Don’t Be Bugged by the Flu

  • Maggie Brown on 02.11.2009 at 2:03 am

    Avoid getting sick!

    Remember young children are the #1 spreaders of germs. My childcare started this new program – Germy Wormy Germ Awareness.

  • Anonymous on 02.16.2009 at 6:09 pm

    hand sanitizers..and what CDC really says.

    Topic of hand sanitizers…please think twice when it comes to hand sanitizers.

    Alcohol vs. Non-Alcohol…
    Schools throughout the country are systematically banning alcohol-based products due to flash point risk, product viability/efficacy, safety and concerns about inadvertent ingestion (Association of Poison Control Center Report published in Jan 2007 reported alcohol based sanitizers (e.g. Purell and other brands) caused upwards of 12,000 cases of alcohol poisoning in kids 6 and under.

    Alcohol products have no efficacy..they evaporate within seconds after applying. They cause dry/irritated skin—increasing exposure to infection. They’re flammable.They have no effectiveness i.e. dirty/soiled hands.

    Alcohol-free alternatives (most, such as Soapopular and Hy5 brands profiled at http://www.soapyusa.com and others) use the organic compound benzalkonium chloride, the same active ingredient found in Bactine antiseptic. Non-drying/non-irritating/extended persistency, antiseptic and hypoallergenic—can be applied to cuts/abrasions, and leaves hands feeling soft.
    Most infection control experts that have researched the topic are in agreement on this issue.

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