You wake up and you can’t stop coughing. Your nose won’t stop running and you feel achy all over. What do you do? You turn to Google, of course. A quick search confirms your suspicions — the flu’s on its way.

So, now what? Do you call in sick and settle yourself on the sofa for the day? If so, you’ll want to lessen those symptoms so that you can get back to work sooner rather than later. You could binge on chicken soup, stream back-to-back episodes of Veep, and stock up on over-the-counter meds. Better still, you could binge on chicken soup, stream back-to-back episodes of Veep, and ask your doctor to prescribe you antiviral medication. But you need to act fast...

Why the urgency?

Flu season generally starts in October and can continue right up until May. Peak season tends to last around 13 weeks between December and March. In this time, the flu virus can wreak havoc on the US population.

But it’s not just the people who are at-risk that are affected. Last year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults between 18 and 64 years accounted for almost 60% of reported flu hospitalizations across the country.

Flu can lead to serious health complications if not treated quickly. The CDC estimates that the flu causes anything between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths in the US each year.

During flu season, it’s important to act quickly to lessen the impact the flu can have. If you come into contact with someone who has the flu, or are feeling flu-like symptoms yourself, then see a doctor within 48 hours, and you can be prescribed fast-acting medication. By taking antiviral meds, you’re less likely to be admitted to hospital, be landed with a hefty medical bill or — worse still — end up fighting for your life

Flu or cold?

Of course, before you make that doctor’s appointment, you want to be sure it’s the flu and not just a cold. Here’s how to tell the difference between symptoms of the flu and a common cold.

Symptoms of a cold include: runny nose; sore throat; sneezing; mild-to-moderate fever; cough; headache; body aches; and mild tiredness.

Symptoms of the flu are similar, but more severe. They include: stuffy and runny nose; sore throat; moderate-to-high fever (although not always); a dry, hacking cough; headache; severe muscle aches; shaking chills; and severe fatigue (which can last up to two weeks).  

What you can do...

By spotting symptoms early and taking action within 48 hours of coming into contact with a flu sufferer, you can help reduce both these symptoms and the duration of the illness.  

Fortunately, flu isn’t an inevitable part of winter, and you can avoid it. Here’s what to do if you think you’re getting the flu:

  1. Take antiviral medication in the first two days: See a doctor or a medical professional within the first 48 hours of your first symptoms or coming into contact with someone else with the flu, and you’ll reduce the risk of developing full-blown flu and the associated complications such as pneumonia. Your doctor will be able to prescribe you generic antiviral medication which isn’t available over the counter.
  2. Stay home: To make a speedy recovery (and to stop the spread of germs) you should stay at home for the time you feel unwell.
  3. Follow good hygiene habits: Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze, wash your hands regularly and disinfect surfaces. Just the basic hygiene rules.
  4. Drink lots of fluids: Make sure you drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated. It doesn’t just have to be water — juices, cordial and broth-based soup will all work just as well.
  5. Get lots of sleep: Adults should have between seven and nine hours sleep every night to prevent illness. As well as an improved immune system, you’ll also feel less stressed.

Follow the 48-hour rule and the steps above and you can get better sooner.