Make Your Primary Care Doctor Your First Call for Assessment
Flu activity is widespread across most of the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and southern New England is no exception. Officials at Rhode Island Department of Health report extremely busy emergency departments throughout the Providence area, with long waits for patients with less urgent needs. Additionally, Rhode Island has seen a significant number of other respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal infections caused by norovirus.
If you experience flu-like symptoms, you should first call or visit your primary care provider, who can quickly assess your health needs. By taking this step, you can avoid potentially long wait times at your nearby emergency department.
Your physician can also determine whether you need additional care because of the severity of symptoms or other risk factors, such as age (under 2 or over 65), pregnancy, a compromised immune system, or a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease or neurological disorders.
Infectious diseases specialist Leonard A. Mermel, DO, ScM discusses the flu and the best ways to prevent it.
What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly, not gradually:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills (It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults.
What to Do If You Have Flu Symptoms
If you experience flu symptoms, you should first call or visit your primary care provider, who can quickly assess your health needs. By taking this step, you can avoid potentially long wait times at your nearby emergency department.
Finally, don’t ignore signs of worsening illness, including difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness, confusion, rash accompanying fever in children, persistent vomiting, or a relapse after improvement. Watch for signs of lethargy or dehydration, especially in infants and young children, including a lack of tears and fewer wet diapers or trips to the bathroom. These all should be reported to your doctor in a timely fashion as they may indicate the need for immediate care.
How to Prevent the Flu
Of course, it is always important to minimize your risk of getting sick in the first place.
The first line of defense in preventing flu, or reducing severity of symptoms if you get the flu, remains the influenza vaccine.
“It’s not too late,” said Leonard Mermel, DO, ScM, director of epidemiology and infection control at Rhode Island Hospital. “Getting your vaccine as soon as possible can still reduce risk of flu.”
Mermel stresses, too, that frequently cleaning your hands, with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, is key. Those who have flu can easily spread germs even before symptoms appear, so while keeping your distance from people exhibiting coughs or sneezing is important, hand-washing helps minimize the spread of the flu and other contagious diseases.
How to Care for Others when They Have the Flu
So, what to do if you find yourself or a loved one experiencing the characteristic symptoms of a respiratory viral infection, like sore throat, cough, runny nose, fever?
With these flu-like symptoms “don’t go to work or send a child to school as this will expose others,” Mermel says. “And if you’re caring for someone at home who is sick, stay three to six feet away to the extent possible, practice good hand hygiene, don’t share eating utensils, and ask the person to cover their cough with their elbow or sleeve.”
More Information About the Flu
Learn more about the Flu from Living - A Lifespan blog: