Even nurses get the flu

Flu is epidemic in Washington

Flu has claimed almost 80 lives in my state, and thousands of people have been sick with the flu or other upper respiratory illnesses.

Last week I succumbed, as well.

And boy, was it a loooong week. And I mentally kicked myself many times, because I probably could have avoided my ordeal if I had just WASHED MY HANDS more frequently.

I don’t know if I had an official influenza virus. I didn’t see a doctor and wasn’t tested. I did get my flu vaccination in October, but those are never 100% effective. A flu shot is still a great idea, however, because it can lessen the severity of symptoms if you are unlucky enough to catch the flu.

I had all the hallmark symptoms, though: sudden onset, headache, muscle and joint aches, cough, high fever (over 101°F). After a couple of days I developed nasal congestion and sinusitis, less common symptoms that piled on the misery. So unfair.

Anyway, that was last week. But I wanted to share a couple of thoughts that came to me about preventing the spread of flu and colds, and what treatments I found most effective.

Wash, wash, wash

I’ve posted many times about the health benefits of hand washing. And generally I’m pretty good about practicing what I preach. But here’s what I could have done better, and what advice I would give others:

Pay attention to what’s happening in your community. Since late December, flu has been on the rise in Seattle. News media had reported on it, and I had heard many friends say “something nasty is going around.” I guess I rather smugly assumed that because I had my flu shot, I was immune. Even though I know that’s NOT true. I should have been more on my guard and more conscientious about hand washing.

Be more careful in heavily-trafficked settings. Schools and hospitals are probably two of the most likely places to pick up a virus. They know it, too, and are usually pretty good about having hand sanitizer stations and signs encouraging everyone to use them. I’m always very careful in the grocery store, the library, restaurants and other public buildings I visit frequently.

Where I went wrong this time, ironically, was the health club! Trying to improve our health, my husband and I recently joined a local gym. I typically use the treadmill or elliptical machines, and some of the weight machines. After use, I always wipe them down with a towel and sanitizer that is available from dispensers scattered around the facility.

What I should have included doing was wiping the machines down before I used them, and been more deliberate about washing my hands as soon as I returned to the locker room.

After I realized I was sick, I had to call and cancel a personal training appointment. “That’s okay,” the trainer said. “Lots of people have been out sick lately. There’s something nasty going around!” 

No kidding.

Treat the symptoms, eat chicken soup, and endure

There is no wonder drug to treat flu or cold viruses.

On the first day I realized I was ill, I could have tried to make a same-day appointment with my physician, been tested for the flu virus, and MAYBE have gotten a prescription for the antiviral drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir).

Why didn’t I do this?

  • I was sick, but not so sick that I needed medical attention.
  • I felt too lousy to fuss with making an appointment and driving to the clinic.
  • I didn’t want to spread my germs to others in a clinic waiting room.
  • I know that Tamiflu doesn’t really do much to lessen flu symptoms, it’s expensive (even the generic), and it has side effects. It’s really only recommended for people who are at high risk of developing complications.

So I chose to stay home, treat my symptoms and try to stay as comfortable as possible for the next few days.

Headache, muscle aches, sore throat: I used both acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for simple pain relief. Ibuprofen gives me a stomach ache if I take more than one dose a day, so I took it in the morning and used acetaminophen the rest of the day.

Fever, chills: I had a classic high fever with chills. A fever is part of the body’s defense mechanism when fighting off a virus or bacteria. Typically I wouldn’t have bothered to treat a fever on its own, but both the acetaminophen and ibuprofen are fever reducers, as well.

Wrapping up in layers and sipping hot tea with a spoonful of honey and a slice of lemon helped keep me warm.

Cough: I had a goopy cough, as opposed to a dry one, so I wanted to keep coughing. It’s not a good idea to suppress a cough and let the phlegmy stuff build up in your lungs. That can trap bacteria and lead to pneumonia. The hot tea helped, and I made sure to drink plenty of fluids so that the mucus was easier to cough up. (Yuck.)

I didn’t need to, thankfully, but if the cough had really kept me up at night I would have used a cough syrup with dextromethorphan before bed.

Related post: Save money on cough medicines

Lack of appetite: I lost four pounds! Not a diet I would recommend, however. A body that is really ill doesn’t want food. But it’s important to get some nourishment anyway. My husband went out for chicken pho at our local Vietnamese restaurant. It was delicious. Warm, steamy, salty broth, and rice noodles that massaged my throat as I weakly slurped them down. Traditional chicken soup would have been just as good, I’m sure.

Nasal congestion: All of the above home treatments help with a stuffy nose, as well. Fluids and humidity are key. A warm shower can temporarily clear clogged nasal passages. I also filled a bowl with boiling water, added a few drops of tea tree oil, and steamed my face for five minutes, several times a day. I never use decongestants, either oral or nasal sprays. They work by constricting the blood vessels in your nose (and everywhere else), but any relief is temporary at best. Drier nasal passages mean thicker, harder to expel secretions (again, yuck). Decongestants also cause dry eyes, lips and mouth, and increase your heart rate. I just don’t like them.

Lastly, I did my best to keep my germs to myself and prevent spreading them to other people in my house. I coughed into my elbow. I washed my hands or used hand sanitizer frequently. I also keep a container of disinfectant wipes handy just for this kind of situation. I use them to wipe off surfaces I touch frequently, such as door handles, cabinet pulls, the refrigerator handle, coffee pot, etc.

So far, so good. Everyone else is healthy.

I’m glad. I haven’t been that sick in 30 years, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Stay well! Get an annual flu shot and be mindful about washing your hands.

Sláinte,

Frugal Nurse

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