Why you need to stay in bed if you have the flu

You may feel noble soldiering on, but working while you're sick can be harmful to you – and to others.

04 August 2015
by Glynis Horning

Who hasn't done it: stuffed tissues up a sleeve, slapped extra foundation on a shiny red nose, swigged a painkiller, swilled a gargle, and staggered out the door to “do the right thing”, and show up at work, flu and all?

From both a health and an employment perspective, it's not just wrong to go to work sick, it's dangerous. And it's costing the country, warns Terence Govender, executive head of wellness at Metropolitan Health.

“Presenteeism” – the insistence of pitching up for work when you're sick and unable to function properly – can be more costly than absenteeism. You're more likely to make mistakes, suffer occupational injuries, and your illness is likely to spread to colleagues, clients or customers, which can carry considerable consequences. 

Although it seems presenteeism costs have not yet been quantified in South Africa, a study published by the US National Institutes of Health has attributed as much as 60 percent of all health-related employee costs to loss of on-the-job productivity.

Why is rest so important when you have the flu?

With flu, your body needs rest to focus on repairing damage at a cellular level, so stay in bed. This speeds healing, and healthy people can recover in seven to 10 days, while by soldiering on you'll have a low-grade illness for far longer, or have to take time off later because you've become really ill. Flu can morph into viral or bacterial pneumonia, both of which are life-threatening.

When should you seek help?

See a doctor immediately if your body aches and you have a fever about 39 degrees celsius – some studies suggest that taking prescription antiviral flu medication within 48 hours of the first symptoms can shorten it by a day and lessen severity.

Don't insist on antibiotics. These are only effective against bacterial infections and are powerless against viral ones, which include most coughs, colds, flu, sore throats, ear infections and acute bronchitis, says Dr Abdul Kader Peer, a medical microbiologist at Lancet Laboratories in Durban. The only exception may be if you are run down and susceptible to a bacterial infection on top of the viral one.

What should you take?

Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, cold remedies and cough syrups can bring relief. Just don't let them become a habit, cautions Sister Carol Gray, a registered nurse and Clicks regional clinic manager. "This can tip into addiction, where you miss the relief they bring," she says.

"Rest and relief of symptoms is often all you need," says Benoni specialist physician Dr Kuven Naidoo. "This includes painkillers, throat lozenges, gargles and saline drops for a blocked nose." 

Speak to your Clicks pharmacist for recommendations for OTC painkillers, cold remedies and cough syrups such as the Flutex honey cough syrup, which helps relieve phlegmy coughs. 

Why does staying hydrated help?

Drink lots of liquids to stay hydrated and help thin the mucous, including good old chicken soup, made the traditional way with vegetables, celery and parsley. This could have an anti-inflammatory effect and help upper-respiratory tract viral infections, according to a study in Chest, journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Also sip hot tea – all teas contain theophylline, a natural bronchodilator. Adding a teaspoon of turmeric powder may help – in some studies this has shown promise in fighting viruses and inflammation.

How long does it take to recover?

Above all, if you get flu, be a patient patient. In general for every day you are down with flu, it takes three days to recover, so if you're out of commission for a week, it will take three weeks to fully recover your usual energy. Relax and recuperate!

How Clicks Clinics can help you during the flu season

Book an appointment for a flu vaccination at a Clicks Clinic by calling 0860 254 257 or visiting Clicks Clinics online. The good news is that most medical aids now cover the flu vaccination and sometimes even reward members. 

Take note that the following people cannot get vaccinated:

  • Babies younger than 6 months
  • Anyone allergic to eggs
  • Anyone who already has a fever
  • Anyone who has shown a past reaction to a vaccine

Shop now at Clicks.co.za for cold and flu remedies

To help you ward off colds and the flu, or recover from them, Clicks pharmacists have selected the most trustworthy and affordable products for you to purchase online. These include a wide range of vitamins and supplements and cough, cold and flu remedies.

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Read More: Flu Super Section