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How to manage your flu symptoms

Most people who have the flu don’t need to be treated with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu, though the drugs can shorten the duration of symptoms by 1 to 3 days if taken within the first 24 to 48 hours. But there are other ways to manage the symptoms.

“Treatment largely involves supportive care,” said Dr. Joshua Kosowsky, vice chair and clinical director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s emergency department. “It’s all the things your mother told you to do: rest, stay hydrated, take an over-the-counter painkiller and cough medicine.”

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To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of water but make sure to also have fluids with some sodium and sugar — juice, sports drinks, soda — if you’re not able to eat solid foods; that will help keep electrolytes in balance.

Listen to your body, Kosowsky said — stay in bed if you’re feeling excessively fatigued and achy.

You’re most contagious for the first five days after the onset of symptoms, so you should avoid close contact with loved ones and co-workers during that time. Stay home until you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.

“Our original recommendation was to keep kids with the flu home for a full week,” said Dr. ­Alfred ­DeMaria, an infectious disease specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “But the latest studies suggest that, in the absence of fever, it’s not necessary to keep them home for so long.”

Seek immediate medical attention if you develop trouble breathing, bluish skin color, or a return of symptoms. Children who don’t wake up readily, don’t interact, are unable to eat or drink, or are so irritable they can’t be comforted, should also been seen by a doctor.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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