It's officially flu season! Here's how to protect yourself and others (hint: it's not too late to get your flu shot) ... and what to do if you get sick.
Is it the flu, or a cold?
The flu comes on harder and faster than a cold, with more severe and long-lasting symptoms that can make functioning difficult for up to a week, or more.
Flu symptoms can include: a high fever; cough, runny nose, sore throat, and headache; severe fatigue or weakness; body aches and chills; and occasionally diarrhea and/or vomiting (although these are not typical flu symptoms).
Even if you've gotten your flu shot, it is still possible to get the flu. Flu vaccinations aren't always perfectly matched with every influenza strain that comes into circulation. (It's still worthwhile to get your flu shot every year, though – it will protect against most strains, and if you do get sick, your symptoms should be less severe.)
What to do if you get the flu
The flu is always caused by a virus, so antibiotics won’t help, unless you develop a secondary bacterial infection. The best thing you can do is to prioritize rest and self-care and to treat symptoms:
- Rest up. Sleep is the best thing you can do to heal and recover. Although it may be difficult to arrange in your hectic life, your body needs bed rest for at least a day or two to fight off the infection and avoid further complications.
- Stay home. Stay out of classes, work, clubs, etc. until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours (fever should be absent without the use of fever-reducing medicines.)
- Drink lots of clear liquids. The fever that often accompanies the flu causes your body to use more fluid than usual. To avoid dehydration, drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water, broth, herbal tea, gatorade, or another non-caffeinated carbonated beverage daily while you’re sick.
- Take in adequate nutrition. Your immune system needs the support of adequate nutrition to recover well (soups, juices, applesauce, and other bland foods may be most comfortable).
- Monitor your temperature. Be aware that you are most contagious when you have a fever.
- Treat symptoms. You may recover more comfortably by taking non-prescription medications to treat symptoms, including ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and pains; lozenges for sore throat; decongestants for runny nose (all available in our pharmacy). Do NOT take aspirin or aspirin containing medicines due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome in young people. When in doubt, call Cornell Health (607-255-5155) to consult with a nurse.
- Protect others by keeping a distance from others. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to keep those around you from getting your germs.
When to get medical assistance
Contact us 24/7 to consult with a health care provider (607-255-5155) if your symptoms worsen or complications develop, including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Confusion or change in level of consciousness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Severe sore throat, with swollen glands in your neck
- Symptoms improve but then return with fever and a worse cough
- Unidentified rash
- Fever of over 100˚F lasting for more than three days
Antiviral drugs may be suggested (prescription only) for those who are very sick and those who have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications.
How to protect yourself against the flu
It's not too late to get your flu shot! Getting vaccinated each year is the BEST way to protect yourself – and others – against seasonal influenza.
How to get vaccinated – Our annual flu vaccine clinics have concluded for this year. But you can still get your flu shot at Cornell Health:
- Ask at your next medical appointment
- Or schedule an appointment to get vaccinated
Vaccination is FREE for all students, as well as for student spouses/partners on SHP (the cost for spouses/partners with other insurance will depend on insurance). We are no longer able to provide flu vaccination for staff, faculty, and retirees at Cornell Health.
Learn more on our Annual Flu Vaccination page.
The flu is highly contagious and spreads by contact with the oral and nasal secretions of others who have been infected. To limit exposure:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water (use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to a sink).
- Don’t share personal items like eating and drinking utensils, lip balms, etc.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs are spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches her or his eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Take care of your immune system by eating well, getting plenty of sleep, engaging in physical activity, and managing stress.
More about our flu-prevention strategies
Refer to this recent Cornell Sun article by our Director of Medical Services, Dr. Anne Jones '04.
How to promote a flu-free campus
Help us spread the word about flu prevention and self-care!
Print and display our flu-related posters and bulletin board materials: see our Flu Campaigns page.