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Your flu season survival guide

September 11, 2018 | Heather Shannon
woman with flu, coughing, sneezing, sick

Flu season is just around the corner. Are you ready? 

Prevent the flu in the first place

Doing a few simple things can help prevent the flu altogether. 

  • Get your flu shot. Even if you do get the flu, those who have the shot will have a less severe illness.
  • Wash your hands. This advice holds year round, but it's crucial during flu season, when infectious germs are lurking all over.
  • Get your Zzzs. A lack of sleep can weaken your immune system and leave you susceptible
  • Eat nutritious food. Powering your body with critical nutrients can help keep you strong, active and healthy.

If you do all of the above, plus a few other flu prevention strategies, you're giving yourself your best chance at remaining healthy and strong

Don't take too much acetaminophen

If you do get the flu, take heed: Acetaminophen is very easy medication to overdo.

The consequences of this are dire: Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States, according to the National Institutes of health. Each year, 500 people die from overdosing on it.

Severe liver damage can occur if one takes more than four grams in 24 hours says Dr. Ke-Qin Hu, a liver disease specialist with UCI Health Liver and Pancreas Services.

And that is not hard to do:

  • One Tylenol extra strength pill contains 500 mg of acetaminophen. Taking two pills up to four times a day adds up to 4 grams. 
  • Add a cough or cold medicine containing acetaminophen and you can easily exceed the 4 gram limit.

Get more acetaminophen safety tips ›

Know when you're contagious

Despite your best efforts, you got the flu. You know what's next: You need to stay home and recover. But for how long?

Dr. William Wilson, UCI Health's chief medical officer, and Dr. Susan Huang, medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention say you're clear when:

  • You have had no fever for 24 hours
  • You have not vomited or had diarrhea for 24 hours
  • Coughing and sneezing should be reduced and intermittent

Generally, the "sick window" is about one week, starting from a day before your symptoms appear to six or seven days after that.

More tips for returning to work after you've been sick ›

Stay home — if you can

The reality is that many people just can't quarantine themselves inside when they get the flu.

If you absolutely must go into work, Dr. David Sodaro, a family medicine specialist at UCI Health — Tustin, suggests:

"Hydration and rest are keys to getting your immune system to heal you," he says. 

How to cope with the flu when you have to work ›

Procrastinators: You can still get a shot

It seems pointless, but it's not. If you procrastinated and didn't get your shot early in the season, Dr. Shruti Gohil, associate medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology, says there's one big reason you should still consider it: It lessens the severity of your illness.

"There's clear data that getting the vaccine will decrease your risk of death, hospitalization, pneumonia or admission into an intensive care unit," she says.

Learn more about how the vaccine is made ›

Send those flu myths packing

It's hard to tell what's fact and fiction when it comes to the flu, but internal medicine physician Dr. Emilie Chow is happy to set it straight.

Some of the most popular myths include:

  • The flu vaccine can give you the flu
  • You always know when it's the flu
  • Feed a cold, starve a fever
  • Antibiotics are necessary to fight the flu
  • You can get the flu by going out with wet hair

Get Dr. Chow's take on these and other myths ›

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