Swine Flu: Taking Care of a Sick Person (cont.)

Medications to Help Lessen Symptoms of the Flu

Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist for correct, safe use of medications

Antiviral medications can sometimes help lessen influenza symptoms, but require a prescription. Most people do not need these antiviral drugs to fully recover from the flu. However, persons at higher risk for severe flu complications, or those with severe flu illness who require hospitalization, might benefit from antiviral medications. Antiviral medications are available for persons 1 year of age and older. Ask your healthcare provider whether you need antiviral medication.

Influenza infections can lead to or occur with bacterial infections. Therefore, some people will also need to take antibiotics. More severe or prolonged illness or illness that seems to get better, but then gets worse again may be an indication that a person has a bacterial infection. Check with your healthcare provider if you have concerns.

Warning! Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) to children or teenagers who have the flu; this can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome.

  • Check ingredient labels on over-the-counter cold and flu medications to see if they contain aspirin.

  • Teenagers with the flu can take medicines without aspirin, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®), to relieve symptoms.

  • Children younger than 2 years of age should not be given over-the-counter cold medications without first speaking with a healthcare provider.

  • The safest care for flu symptoms in children younger than 2 years of age is using a cool-mist humidifier and a suction bulb to help clear away mucus.

  • Fevers and aches can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Examples of these kinds of medications include:

Generic Name Brand Name(s)
Acetaminophen Tylenol®
Ibuprofen Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®
Naproxen Aleve

  • Over-the-counter cold and flu medications used according to the package instructions may help lessen some symptoms such as cough and congestion. Importantly, these medications will not lessen how infectious a person is.

  • Check the ingredients on the package label to see if the medication already contains acetaminophen or ibuprofen before taking additional doses of these medications—don't double dose! Patients with kidney disease or stomach problems should check with their health care provider before taking any NSAIDS.

Check with your health care provider or pharmacist if you are taking other over-the-counter or prescription medications not related to the flu.

When to Seek Emergency Medical Care

Get medical care right away if the sick person at home:

  • has difficulty breathing or chest pain

  • has purple or blue discoloration of the lips

  • is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down

  • has signs of dehydration such as dizziness when standing, absence of urination, or in infants, a lack of tears when they cry

  • has seizures (for example, uncontrolled convulsions)

  • is less responsive than normal or becomes confused

Steps to Lessen the Spread of Flu in the Home

When providing care to a household member who is sick with influenza, the most important ways to protect yourself and others who are not sick are to:

  • keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible (see "placement of the sick person at home")

  • remind the sick person to cover their coughs, and clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often, especially after coughing and/or sneezing.

  • have everyone in the household clean their hands often, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub

  • ask your healthcare provide if household contacts of the sick person, particularly those contacts that may have chronic health conditions, should take antiviral medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®) to prevent the flu.

Placement of the sick person

  • Keep the sick person in a room separate from the common areas of the house. (For example, a spare bedroom with its own bathroom, if that's possible.) Keep the sickroom door closed.

  • Unless necessary for medical care, persons with the flu should not leave the home when they have a fever or during the time that they are most likely to spread their infection to others (7 days after onset of symptoms in adults, and 10 days after onset of symptoms in children).

  • If persons with the flu need to leave the home (for example, for medical care), they should cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and wear a loose-fitting (surgical) mask if available.

  • Have the sick person wear a surgical mask if they need to be in a common area of the house near other persons.

  • If possible, sick persons should use a separate bathroom. This bathroom should be cleaned daily with household disinfectant (see below).