For those suffering from this year's virulent flu season, experts are warning that sports drinks are not sufficient for rehydrating the body.
John D. Bowman from Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy is advising the public against using sports drinks such as Gatorade, explaining that with too much sugar and too little salt (sodium) or potassium they are not an appropriate solution to treat dehydration caused by illness such as flu.
"Sports beverages may be fine for healthy persons following intensive exercise, but they are not recommended for those with fever, diarrhea or vomiting," said Bowman. "Seasonal influenza (flu) is not usually associated with diarrhea, but this season many children are reported to have it as one of their symptoms. Children and older people are at greater risk of severe symptoms from dehydration, and using sports beverages, chicken soup or other home remedies may actually worsen the illness."
Instead Bowman recommends the oral rehydration salts (ORS) solution, a scientifically sound treatment for intestinal flu and dehydration also recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most people will probably also have the ingredients needed stocked in their kitchen cabinet, making it an easy and effective at-home remedy -- simply combine one-quart water with a half teaspoon of salt and six level teaspoons of sugar. As an option, a half cup of orange juice or a mashed banana can be added for potassium.
Bowman noted that "What people call the stomach flu is not the same as the respiratory flu, but both can result in dehydration, which makes one feel worse. The use of oral rehydration is a general recommendation for any ill person with mild to moderate dehydration, and its use might delay or even prevent the need for acute care."
He added that there is still time to get the flu shot, which can help minimize the risk of infection and the severity of symptoms while pointing out that if you do come down with flu antiviral drugs like Tamiflu could help.
"If you have not gotten the influenza vaccine, you should do so now, as the flu season is still at its peak of activity. The persons most at risk are the children under 5 and those older than 65 years, although many baby boomers between 50 and 65 are getting the flu as well;" meanwhile he outlined that antivirals "are helpful when taken within the first day or two of the flu."
Bowman cautioned that those concerned about dehydration or other symptoms of the flu should contact their primary care providers immediately.