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What To Do & Not To Do At The First Sign Of The Flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a serious health condition. Many people often confuse the flu with the common cold, but they are not the same. Flu is caused by the influenza virus, while the rhinovirus commonly causes the common cold. It usually begins with a tell-tale tickle at the back of your throat, a runny nose, and then the sinking feeling that you have come down with the flu. It is during the early stages of the flu that you should start taking care of yourself so that the illness does not worsen. Here are some tips on what to do and not to do at the first sign of the flu.

Overview of the Flu

Caused by the influenza virus, the flu is a severe health condition that causes thousands of people to fall sick every year.(1) According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the severity and strain of the diseases vary every year, but one thing that remains constant is that you should not take influenza slightly.

Statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services show that nearly 20 percent of the entire US population is affected every year by the influenza virus.(2)

Some of the first signs of the flu include:

It is essential that you take note of these early symptoms and immediately start taking the necessary precautionary steps to take care of yourself.

Recognizing the early symptoms of the flu is especially important for young children, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and older adults. Here are some tips on what to do and what not to do at the first signs of the flu.

Recognizing the First Sign or Symptoms of Flu

It is often easy to confuse the symptoms of the flu with those of the common cold, especially at the early stage. Even though the signs of the flu and the common cold are similar, some of the symptoms of the flu tend to be more severe, and the onset of flu is also more rapid.

Here are some of the early signs of the flu everyone should watch out for:

  • Fatigue
  • Body or muscle ache
  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sudden onset of fever (usually around 38oC (100oF)

It is common to experience fever in the early stages of the flu, but it is not necessary that everyone with the flu will experience a fever.(3)

What To Do At The First Sign Of The Flu?

What To Do At The First Sign Of The Flu?

Here are some of the things you should be doing if you experience the early signs of the flu:

Eat healthily: The first thing to do when experiencing the symptoms of flu is to boost your immune system by eating healthy and nutritious foods. There is a high chance that you won’t feel like eating anything due to being sick, but consuming smaller meals that are rich in vegetables and fruits will give you the much-needed boost of strength your body needs to fight against the virus.

Wash Your Hands: It is necessary to keep washing your hands regularly in order to prevent the virus from spreading. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, and don’t forget to clean between the fingers and underneath the fingernails. Use soap and water for washing, but if there is no soap and water available, then you should make use of a good quality hand sanitizer for the time being.

Cover Your Mouth While Coughing And Sneezing: Instead of sneezing or coughing into your hands, it is better to either cough or sneeze directly into a disposable tissue or sneeze into your arm. The flu virus is extremely contagious and is known to quickly spread through the air if you cough and sneeze without covering your mouth and nose.

Increase Your Fluid Intake: Water, tea, and certain low-sugar electrolyte drinks will help you flush out the virus from your system faster. Having regular fluids will help you remain hydrated and not dry up your nasal passage. Avid having caffeine and alcohol.

Keep The Essential Flu-Fighting Items With You: Remember that the flu will last for at least three to five days. During this time, you will need to have a steady supply of decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, cough suppressants, tissues, and other items such as your favorite drink and snacks. If you are feeling too sick to venture out, then asking a friend or family member to do the shopping for you is a better idea, or order the items online.

Get Plenty Of Sleep: It is necessary to sleep as much as possible during the first 24 hours of any illness. This gives your body the chance to recover faster. So instead of staying up and watching your favorite show or catching up on work, it is better to catch up on your sleep.

Take Time Off Work: Even though it is difficult to take too much time off work, it is will better to ask for a holiday as it will prevent your co-workers from getting sick. Your body needs as much rest as possible while it fights off the virus. You are also likely to feel fatigued and drowsy as you fight off the illness. This is why it is recommended to take time off work and stay and home to rest. Remember that the best treatment for the flu is to get plenty of rest while the body fights off the virus.

What Not To Do At The First Sign Of The Flu?

Going To School Or Work: As mentioned above, flu is a highly contagious illness. You will not only be contagious at least two days before your symptoms start showing up, but you will also remain contagious up to at least five to seven days after the symptoms begin. So it is better to stay at home instead of spreading the disease to others as well.

Hugging Or Shaking Hands With People: You don’t want to be responsible for spreading the disease to others. This is why you should avoid making physical contact with others during this time. Also, avoid sharing your food and drinks with them.

Straining Yourself: You will be feeling fatigued when you have the flu. The flu is a progressive disease, meaning that your symptoms will get worse before you start feeling better. It is essential to take plenty of rest during the first few days as it may otherwise lengthen your recovery time further.

Having Sugary And Processed Foods: The foods are not going to make you feel any better, and neither will they give you any nutrients.

Skipping Your Meals: You may have lost your appetite due to the fly, but it is still necessary to eat something. Your body needs this energy and nutrition to fight against the flu virus. If you are unable to have a proper full meal, then opt for having yogurt, fruits, soup, vegetables, oatmeal, or even broth. These are all great alternatives to having a full meal, especially when you have lost your appetite due to sickness.

Taking Unproven Herbal Medications: Many people are ready to try herbal remedies if they promise to help them recover faster. Keep in mind that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not scrutinize or check these remedies for safety and effectiveness. If you want to try any herbal medications, then it is best to either purchase from a reputable source and that too after discussing it with your doctor.

Smoking: The flu is primarily a respiratory disease, and smoking will only cause more irritation to your lungs. It will eventually worsen your symptoms.

Signs of an Emergency in Flu

While for most people, the flu gets better in five to seven days, some people may experience more severe symptoms. Some of the signs of emergency in adults include:

In children and infants, the symptoms of a flu emergency include:

  • No tears while crying
  • Inability to drink or eat
  • Irritability
  • Trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin
  • Fever accompanied by a rash

In such cases, it is essential to seek medical assistance at the earliest.


The flu is not the same as being down with a cold. You will likely feel too tired to go on with your daily schedule when you have the flu. By watching out for the early signs of the fly, you can prevent your condition from getting worse and also prevent making others sick. By following the helpful tips mentioned here, you will make your recovery easier and also get back to your routine faster.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Burden of Influenza. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html [Accessed 11 Feb. 2020].
  2. Report.nih.gov. (2020). NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT). [online] Available at: https://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=133 [Accessed 11 Feb. 2020].
  3. Monto, A.S., Gravenstein, S., Elliott, M., Colopy, M. and Schweinle, J., 2000. Clinical signs and symptoms predicting influenza infection. Archives of internal medicine, 160(21), pp.3243-3247.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 6, 2020

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