Flu Incubation
January 23, 2005 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I've had the flu since Wednesday. I haven't left my apartment since Friday. A friend just told me that I won't get better unless I air out my apartment and take a walk outside. Is that true? Can germs live in your bedsheets?

I'd readily go outside, but there's two feet of snow and it's fourteen degrees out.
posted by jsavimbi to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Germs can live in your bedsheets, but when you're sick and it's freezing outside, the thing to do is change your sheets and keep your bedroom reasonably clean, not go for a walk outside. Besides, going for a walk isn't going to kill the bacteria circulating in your apartment. Drink hot fluids and sleep. IANAD, but I sure have had the flu.
posted by bingo at 8:19 AM on January 23, 2005

I am not a doctor. However:

Your friend is full of shit.

Flu is caused by a virus; once you're infected, it's got to run its course (if you catch it early, you can get antiviral medication from your doctor that can shorten the flu's duration, but it sounds like you're well past that.)

"Airing out" your apartment and "taking a walk" outside won't do you a bit of good, and you're not going to reinfect yourself if there are some virus particles on your bedsheets (e.g. from the moisture from a particularly messy sneeze.) If you're grossed out by that, change the sheets!

Rest. Drink lots of liquids. Tylenol for fever or body aches. Call in an order for hot soup from your favorite deli or restaurant (this may not apply to you, as I am unsure of your location, but to me "apartment" implies "urban setting with good delivery options.")

Go out when you damn well feel like it, preferably when it's not 14 degrees outside with two feet of snow. And don't take advice from well-meaning friends with a shaky grasp of biology.
posted by enrevanche at 8:22 AM on January 23, 2005

Well, you're not going to have the flu for the rest of your life--you _will_ eventually get better.

It's probably a very good idea to get out sometime soon, but I think more for your metabolism and overall emotional well-being than anything else. Whenever you're on the tail end of an episode of the flu or a cold, getting moderate exercise is usually going to help you get back on your feet quicker.

Definitely wait till you're no longer flat on your back, though. If you're still in the throes of a nasty flu, definitely stay inside and rest.
posted by LairBob at 8:22 AM on January 23, 2005

Thank you for the advice. I knew she was full of it, but I wanted to be sure before I put any money down or God forbid, do yet another load of laundry.

I'll stick to chicken soup and later I'll go out and catch the Pats game on the telly. At a bar. Snowed in.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:28 AM on January 23, 2005

jsavimbi, a bar atmosphere, while tons of fun for a football game - may not be such a great idea for your weakened immune system. Unless you have smoke free bars where you live.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:44 AM on January 23, 2005

If you go to the bar, you might want to air out the house. That's not such a bad idea, really - get rid of the stale air. Crack open a few windows, set all thermostats to off. You will return to a fresher 'cleaner' house.

However, I caution you against going to a bar for the game if you still feel you might be contagious. Not fair to the other patrons there.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2005

I am not a doctor, but: Once you get the flu, your body is working to fight it. When you get over the flu, that means your body won. The great thing about our immune system is that it remembers its victories and will almost always be able to fight off an infection from the same virus/bacteria/organism before you become symptomatic.

So this "flu living in the bedsheets" myth is total B.S. There might be virus particles there, but your body will destroy them before you even know you've been infected. (If you know you are immunodepressed however, none of this is relevant.)

Additionally, influenza is in the Orthomyxoviridae family which does not have viral capsids, and thus will likely not remain a viable virus for more than 48 hours (or less) outside of a host environment.
posted by ruwan at 10:38 AM on January 23, 2005

I almost always take a walk, even when sick, and I like to air out my room a little when I have a cold (though I agree with ruwan, there is no real science to this), but your body probably needs rest more than a jolt of cold. I am not a doctor either, but as someone who doesn't currently have flu, I would encourage you to stay home until your fever is down. Flu won't kill a healthy person, but it can kill the elderly or those with comprimized immune systems. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2005

Stay inside. Get lots of sleep, and plenty of fluids.

Fun fact: it's probably not the virus that's making you feel all achy and weak and crappy. It's the interferon, a chemical made by your body to help ramp up the immune system to kill the virus.
posted by gramcracker at 11:21 AM on January 23, 2005

I usually alternate from bed to couch while doing laundry sheets (I do cover the couch in sheets) and opening the window in the room I am currently not in.

The reasoning for this has nothing to do with germs and more to do with that gacky smell sickness can leave in a room and on the sheets. It may do nothing for my health but it does make me feel, sleep and rest better.

I also do take a briskish walk when sick, but on the tail end of the bout. I get cabin fever very easily.

I say wait until you feel better, do laundry while inside (oh the crispness of a freshly laundered sheet when I am ill- it is like a kiss from mom), but peek out even if it is 14 degrees and 2 feet of snow. Snow is pretty. Cold air can feel nice. Jut make is short.
posted by oflinkey at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2005

Friend? A real friend would have come over and laundered the sheets and your jammies. And brought a pot of soup. If you do feel well enough to go out for a three hour+ football game, and plan to leave windows open, please do not turn off your heating apparatus! You do not need to deal with frozen pipes. Set your thermostat to something well above freezing - it may not register lower than 55° anyway.
posted by Cranberry at 12:25 PM on January 23, 2005

Drink lots of hot Tom Yam soup baby! That thing is dynamite for colds and the flu. I have a recipe if you want. :)
posted by madman at 1:07 PM on January 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

OK, easy with the knee-jerk reaction. While germs do not live in your bedsheets, going out for a walk is not a bad idea. If you recall your high school biology classes, your immune system has two principal distribution mechanisms: the cardiovascular system and the lymphatic system. Your blood is pumping blood regardless of whether you sit or walk, so macrophages and neutophils (white blood cells that fight chronic and acute infections respectively) are zinging around at full speed. However, you lymphatic system is just as important for getting better, if not more so. When you are sick, there is an incentive to getting your lymph fluid moving... to be balanced with other considerations of course.

Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system does not have a pump mechanism associated with it. Interstitial fluid *slowly* drains into lymphatic capillaries, which feed into larger capillaries, passes through lymph nodes and eventually gets dumped into your veins. The total rate of flow for an average adult is only 3 L per 24 hour period. So, what makes lymph move? The primary mechanism is shearing of tissues. When you move, your tissues and organs move, squeezing the lymph capillaries this way and that, and forcing fluid to flow. When you are not moving, the movement of lymph system is powered primarily by the fact that they tend to lie close to your blood vessels, and feed off their dilations and contractions.

To summarize: moving around a bit can help you get better sooner. Moving around too much will cause additional inflammation and make things worse. So if you feel up for a short walk, go for it. If not, try to get someone to come over and give you a massage (which of course is all about tissue movement) - good luck with that if you've got a bad flu though!
posted by blindcarboncopy at 1:13 PM on January 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

i wouldn't go outside but walking around for a bit in your apartment might do you some good ... i wouldn't drink alcohol, though ... wait until you're completely recovered for that
posted by pyramid termite at 3:31 PM on January 23, 2005

You can't get re-infected . . . from what I recall of college science classes, you can never catch the same virus twice. Once you get it, you have the antibodies against it. (This is why flu vaccines - and any vaccine - works, no?) So even if the germs did live for a little while in your sheets, they would do you no harm.
Chicken soup really is great - preferably from a base of home-made stock. I like to add a lot of lemon or lime juice to it when I'm sick, sort of like the spicy lime chicken soups you get in Mexico.
All that said, I do wash my sheets and clothes often when I'm ill . . .mentally it makes things seem less "yucky."
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:09 PM on January 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

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