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Why hydrating with sports drinks while you're sick is a bad idea

The dangerous combination of a widespread flu outbreak and a shortage of intravenous fluids in the U.S. has forced some medical facilities to give sports drinks to dehydrated patients, leaving them susceptible to further health risks.

The vast majority of sports drinks are made with high levels of sugar and low amounts of salt, making them highly unqualified to rehydrate someone suffering from this year’s prevalent flu virus.

“The basic deficiency in beverages such as Gatorade for illness-related dehydration is that there is too much sugar and not enough salt or potassium,” Texas A&M University pharmacy professor John Bowman told the Vital Record — the school’s news site. “Sports beverages may be fine for healthy persons following intensive exercise, but they are not recommended for those with fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Seasonal influenza is not usually associated with diarrhea, but this season many children are reported to have it as one of their symptoms.”

Bowman said that children and the elderly, like with any major health risks, are especially vulnerable to the severe effects of dehydration and that “using sports drinks, chicken soup or other home remedies may actually worsen the illness.”

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Instead, he said an oral rehydration salts solution — typically recommended by the World Health Organization for intestinal flus — made from common kitchen ingredients can do the trick. Simply combine a quart of water, half a teaspoon of salt and six teaspoons of sugar for a WHO-approved solution to replace the body’s fluids. The concoction was first created by the organization’s doctors in developing countries to treat people with cholera and other diarrhea-causing diseases.

Bowman also noted that it’s still not too late to get a flu shot to avoid this dehydrating virus.

“If you have not gotten the influenza vaccine, you should do so now, as the flu season is still at its peak of activity,” Bowman said. “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.”

And if you already have the flu, Bowman advises people to call their local pharmacy to check on the availability of Tamiflu, as many are currently low or out of stock.

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