You feel miserable. Your head, muscles and throat ache. You have a runny nose and a fever. You think you have the flu. But at what point should you seek medical attention?
Todd Crocco, M.D., chair of the WVU Department of Emergency Medicine, said in most cases, the best thing to do when you think you may have the influenza virus – whether it’s seasonal or H1N1 – is to stay home.
“Rest, drink plenty of fluids like water or sports drinks and take Motrin or Tylenol for your fever,” Dr. Crocco said. “You should go out only if you need to do something that someone else cannot do for you, such as going to a dialysis appointment. And, in that case, we recommend that you wear a mask.”
To reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others, flu sufferers should stay home until they are fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of Tylenol or Motrin, Crocco said.
Those who are sick should also avoid people who are at a higher risk to contract the virus, including children younger than 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or HIV.
Crocco says there are some instances when emergency medical care should be sought.
Children who display the following symptoms should be treated by a physician:
- Fast or difficult breathing
- Change in color (blue or gray)
- Persistent vomiting
- Inability to hold down fluids
- Inappropriate interaction with caregivers
- Symptoms that get better and return with a fever and cough (which could be a sign of pneumonia)
Adults who display the following symptoms should be treated by a physician:
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Dizziness or confusion
- Severe vomiting
- Inability to tolerate fluids
- Sudden return of symptoms, which as in children can be a sign of pneumonia
People with those symptoms should go to their nearest urgent care clinic or hospital emergency room.
Crocco recommends urgent care clinics, where wait times are likely to be shorter. This practice also helps prevent the spread of the virus to patients seeking hospital care for other injuries and illnesses, he said.
At the time of treatment, patients may or may not receive a rapid flu test, which is a swab of the nostrils. Some patients with flu-like symptoms will simply be treated as if they have it, Crocco said. High-risk patients are more likely to be tested.
Depending on the timing of their symptoms and their age, some patients may receive TamiFlu, Crocco added. While it can potentially shorten the time a patient shows flu symptoms and is contagious, TamiFlu is not a cure for flu.
“It’s not a magic bullet. It doesn’t work on the flu virus the way an antibiotic works on a bacterial infection,” Crocco said. “It may help reduce the symptoms and contagious period, but it is not a cure.”
To dodge the flu virus, Crocco advises putting up a strong defense.
“Wash your hands frequently. Most importantly, especially for those who are high risk, stay away from people who are sick, particularly if you see them coughing or sneezing,” he said. “The flu virus is predominantly spread through coughing and sneezing, so those are the best ways to protect yourself.”
Crocco also encourages people to get both the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 flu vaccine.
“Just because you’ve had one strain of the flu doesn’t mean you won’t get another strain,” he said. “We recommend patients get both vaccines to fully protect themselves.”
CONTACT: Angela Jones, HSC News Service,
(304) 293-7087, firstname.lastname@example.org