Every year, the flu spreads across college campuses nationwide. Close living quarters, shared restrooms, and a lot of social activities make a college student more likely to catch the flu.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

A college student with the flu will usually have a fever of 100°F or higher and a sore throat or a cough. Other symptoms may include:

  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Sore muscles
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

Most people with milder symptoms should feel better within 3 to 4 days and do not need to see a health care provider. Avoid contact with other people and drink plenty of fluids if you are having flu symptoms.

How do I treat my symptoms?

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help lower fever. Sometimes health care providers will tell you to use both types of medicine.

  • Take acetaminophen every 4 - 6 hours.
  • Take ibuprofen every 6 - 8 hours.
  • Do NOT use aspirin.

A fever does not need to come all the way down to normal. Most people will feel better if their temperature drops by one degree.

Over-the-counter cold medicines may relieve some symptoms. Throat lozenges or sprays that contain an anesthetic will help with sore throat. Check your student health center’s web site for more information.

What about antiviral medications?

Most people with milder symptoms feel better within 3 to 4 days and do not need to take antiviral medications.

Ask your health care provider if antiviral medicine is right for you. If you have any of the medical conditions below, you may be at risk for a more severe case of the flu:

  • Lung disease (including asthma)
  • Heart conditions (except high blood pressure)
  • Kidney, liver, nerve, and muscle conditions
  • Blood disorders (including sickle cell disease)
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
  • A weakened immune system due to diseases (such as AIDS), radiation therapy, or certain medications, including chemotherapy and corticosteroids
  • Other long-term (chronic) medical problem

Two antiviral medicines are used to treat some people who have the flu. They are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). These drugs work better if you start taking them within 2 days of your first symptoms.

When can I return to school?

You should be able to return to school when you’re feeling well and have not had a fever for 24 hours (without taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other medicines to lower your fever).

Should I get the flu vaccine?

People should get the vaccine even if they’ve had a flu-like illness already. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older should receive the flu vaccine. Receiving the flu vaccine will help protect you from getting the flu. The most recent vaccine also protects against swine flu.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

Flu vaccines are often available at local health centers, doctor's offices, and pharmacies. Ask your student health center, doctor, pharmacy, or your place of work if they offer the flu vaccine.

How do I avoid catching or spreading the flu?

  • Stay in your apartment, dorm room, or home for at least 24 hours after your fever goes away. Wear a mask if you leave your room.
  • Do NOT share food, utensils, cups, or bottles.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing and throw it away after use.
  • Cough into your sleeve if a tissue is not available.
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you. Use it often during the day and always after touching your face.
  • Do NOT touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.

When should I see a doctor?

Most college students do not need to see a health care provider when they have flu symptoms. This is because most college-age people are not at risk for a severe case. 

If you feel you should see a health care provider, call their office first and tell them your symptoms. This helps the staff prepare for your visit, so that you do not spread germs to other people there.

If you have an increased risk of flu complications, contact your health care provider. Risk factors include:

  • Chronic lung problems (including asthma or COPD)
  • Heart problems (except high blood pressure)
  • Kidney disease or failure (long-term)
  • Liver disease (long-term)
  • Brain or nervous system disorder
  • Blood disorders (including sickle cell disease)
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
  • Weak immune system (such as patients with AIDS, cancer, or an organ transplant; receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy; or taking corticosteroid pills every day)

You may also want to talk to the health care provider if you are around others who may be at risk for a severe case of the flu, including people who:

  • Live with or care for a child 6 months old or younger
  • Work in a health care setting and have direct contact with patients
  • Live with or care for someone with a chronic medical problem who has not been vaccinated for the flu 

Call your health care provider right away or go to the emergency room if you have:

  • Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or abdominal pain
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion, or problems reasoning
  • Severe vomiting, or vomiting that does not go away
  • Having fever and a worse cough after flu-like symptoms seemed to improve
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007446.htm


Misconceptions about seasonal flu and flu vaccines

Are there really benefits to getting a flu vaccine?

  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu also protects the people around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
  • Flu vaccination can help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than 6 months old who are too young to get vaccinated).
  • Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes, like hospitalizations and deaths.

Can a flu shot give you the flu?

No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been 'inactivated' and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The most common side effects from the influenza shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur.

Can the nasal spray flu vaccine give you the flu?

The nasal spray vaccine cannot give you the flu. The viruses contained in the nasal spray flu vaccine are attenuated (i.e., weakened), which means they cannot cause flu illness. These weakened viruses are also cold-adapted, meaning they are designed to only cause mild infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. These viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas of the body where warmer temperatures exist. The nasal spray is well tolerated and the most commonly reported side effects are mild and include runny nose, nasal congestion and cough.

Are any of the available flu vaccines recommended over the others?

CDC has not expressed a preference for which flu vaccine people should get this season except for one: Starting in 2014-2015, CDC recommends use of the nasal spray vaccine for healthy (those who do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to influenza complications) children 2 years through 8 years of age when it is immediately available and if the child has no contraindications or precautions to that vaccine. If the nasal spray vaccine is not immediately available and the flu shot is, vaccination should not be delayed and a flu shot should be given.

Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine?

No. Flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection.

Do I really need a flu vaccine every year?

Yes. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for just about everyone 6 months and older, even when the viruses the vaccine protects against have not changed from the previous season. The reason for this is that a person's immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu. 

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm