January 24, 2018

Have the Flu, or Think You Do? Expert Advice on What to Do

This flu season has been particularly severe, with high number of influenza cases both here in western North Carolina and around the country. There are many steps you can take to prevent catching the flu, but because of the nature of this year’s strain, it may very well affect you or your family at some point.

So, what should you do if you get the flu – or if you think you may have the flu, but you aren’t sure? Kate Rasche, MD, of Mission Community Primary Care – Haywood, lends her expertise on the topic.

Get treatment within 48 hours of symptoms

If you become ill with symptoms of the flu, contact your primary care provider, seek walk-in care with Mission My Care Now, conduct an online provider visit with Mission Virtual Clinic or visit a nearby urgent care facility. Treatment with antiviral drugs within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms is especially important as a second line of defense against the flu this year. “The medication is not felt to be particularly effective if you get in after that 48-hour window,” Dr. Rasche said. “So, often times you won’t be prescribed the medication – or even tested for the flu – if you show up after that.”

Flu symptoms include fever, body aches, a headache, a dry cough, and a sore or dry throat. Learn more at our Health Library.

People aged 65 or older, people with certain chronic medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes or heart disease), pregnant women and children under age 5 years are at high risk of developing serious flu-related illnesses if they get sick, so it is important that their healthcare provider is informed of their illness right away.

Stay home if you’re sick – no, seriously – stay home

You can spread the flu to others beginning 1 day before you get sick continuing up to 7 days after you get sick. So, upon contracting the flu you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, with the exception of getting medical care or other necessities. “In certain cases, flu can still be spread even 24 hours after the last fever,” Dr. Rasche said. “So even when you do go back to work or school, it’s important to continue frequent handwashing and avoiding contact with sick people for at least a few days afterward.”

If you must leave home, wear a facemask or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Wash your hands often to keep from spreading flu to others.

Rest, hydration, nourishment

In addition to completing any prescribed medications, the absolute best way to aid recovery from the flu is to get plenty of rest, stay properly hydrated and thoroughly nourished. “The foundation of treatment is adequate rest and hydration, and using things like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to manage the fever – which is often one of the most bothersome things,” Dr. Rasche said. “Honey and hot tea can also help with cough symptoms, as well as humidifiers.”

If it gets better, then worse again, don’t ignore it

Influenza can be complicated by a secondary bacterial pneumonia that can be quite serious and life-threatening. Thus, if your symptoms begin to improve but then worsen again, you should call your physician and seek medical care. “Never overlook it if you begin to get worse again after initially getting better with the flu,” Dr. Rasche said. “If you start having respiratory symptoms and fever again well into the course of treatment, call your doctor and seek treatment. This holds true even if you haven’t received treatment.”

Stomach symptoms? It’s probably not the flu

Many people use the term “stomach flu” to refer to an illness with vomiting or diarrhea, but that is not likely the flu. “With influenza in adults, it’s rare to have any gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea,” Dr. Rasche said. “It’s more common for kids to have these symptoms accompanying influenza, but only about 20 percent of the time. If you are vomiting and have diarrhea, it’s very likely not influenza, but rather a GI bug of some sort.”

Avoid the emergency room, unless you have these serious symptoms

It’s important to avoid the emergency department unless you have signs and symptoms of severe illness, as it can expose you to other illnesses and exposes others to your illness.

The following signs and symptoms of serious illness are reasons to be seen in the emergency department.

In infants and children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion

Kate Rasche, MD, sees patients at Mission Community Primary Care – Haywood, (828) 456-9006

Visit mission-health.org/flu to learn more about flu treatment and prevention.