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Influenza: Treating the Flu

Influenza or Influenza-like Illness is a common, contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus. Symptoms may develop from 24 to 72 hours after exposure. Outbreaks of these infections occur almost every winter with varying degrees of severity. Students are at particular risk for acquiring these viral infections.
Frequent signs and symptoms may include:

  • Moderate to high fever and chills.
  • Cough, usually with little or no sputum.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny nose.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle aches, including backache.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Fatigue.

Generally, symptomatic treatment is all that is required for this illness. Most infected individuals will have recovery in 7 to 10 days. During that time symptomatic treatment measures may include the following:

  • For fever, we encourage the use of acetaminophen. Do not take aspirin. Some research shows a link between the use of aspirin (especially in children) during a viral illness and the development of Reye’s syndrome (a type of encephalitis).
  • For cough, use a cool-mist humidifier to increase air moisture. This thins lung secretions so they can be coughed up more readily. Be sure to clean the humidifier daily. Over the counter cough medicines may be used as well, but be careful regarding possible drug interactions.
  • For relief of a sore throat, gargle often with warm or cold, double-strength tea or salt water or use over the counter throat lozenges.
  • For nasal congestion and runny nose, use salt-water drops (1 teaspoon of salt to 1 quart of water) or over the counter nasal sprays or oral decongestants.
  • For aching muscles use warm compresses or a heating pad.
  • For faster recovery, plenty of rest helps your body fight the virus.
  • For a diminished appetite, you may prefer liquids at first. Then progress to small meals of bland starchy foods like dry toast, rice, cooked cereal, or baked potatoes as your appetite improves.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day (especially if you have a fever). Extra fluids, including juice, tea, and noncarbonated drinks, are also beneficial.

Some individuals are more likely to develop a serious infection or are at greater risk of complications. In these patients consideration should be given to treatment with an anti-viral medication directed at combating the illness. This medicine is available only by prescription. Some patients considered at risk for complications may include those who are obese; immunosuppressed; those with diabetes or other chronic illnesses, especially chronic respiratory illnesses, like asthma; women that are pregnant or within two weeks post–partum; adults age 65 years or over, and children less than 5 years of age; and Native Americans or Alaskan Natives. Others should consult with their doctor to determine if they have an increased risk for complications and need for anti-viral therapy. At risk patients with known influenza exposure should not wait for symptoms to develop before seeing their doctor. At risk patients with symptoms of influenza should see their doctor as soon as possible. All patients should consult with a doctor if the following occur during treatment: increased fever or cough; blood in the sputum; earache; shortness of breath or chest pain; thick discharge from the nose, sinuses or ears; sinus pain; neck pain or stiffness; or if new, unexplained symptoms develop. Also remember that drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.

Should you have questions or concerns, please contact our Triage Nurse at (865)974-5080. If after hours, you may go to UT Medical Center Emergency Room where after-hours care has been arranged for eligible students.

Additional information is available through our Patient Diagnosis Information link. After clicking on the link, you must type in “Influenza” in the search area.

Student Health Center
Division of Student Life

1800 Volunteer Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37996-3102
Phone: 865-974-3135