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I Have the Flu: Should I Go to the ER?
The flu remains a very serious public health concern in Pierce County. Since last week, we have noticed trends that offer a bit of good news about the virus.
Fewer people have needed to stay in the hospital because of the flu. The weeks ending Dec. 30 and Jan. 6 each had 48 flu-related hospitalizations, the highest weekly total so far this season. Since then, hospitalizations have mostly gone down. For the week ending Jan. 27—the latest week we have information for—hospitalizations dropped to 32.
In the last two weeks, we have not received reports of any flu-related deaths in the county. Since Jan. 22, flu-related deaths for the season have stayed at 11.
Now for the not-so-good news: More and more people are seeking treatment for the flu in emergency rooms. The flu is mild in most cases. It causes a fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches. A few days of bed rest and plenty of fluids and most people recover at home.
But the flu doesn’t have to land you in the emergency room. And in most cases, it shouldn’t. As a public health nurse, I advise people on how to prevent getting the flu and when you should go to the doctor’s office or to the emergency room.
First, let’s talk about prevention. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu is to get a flu shot. And just as a reminder: It’s not possible to get the flu from a flu shot. The injected flu vaccine is made from an inactivated–or killed–virus, so it cannot transmit infection. The vaccine stimulates your immune system to generate protection against flu, and this can cause minor side effects that feel a bit like the flu. This usually only lasts a day or two. But this is not the same as getting the flu, which is much more severe, lasts longer and is contagious.
Now, let’s say you’re feeling sick. You ask yourself: Do I need to go to the emergency room if I am only a little sick? And I say: No, no, no. Please don’t do that. Emergency rooms are for people who are very sick. You’ll just have to wait a long time, and you will be around a lot of really sick people, who could be very contagious. And your symptoms could cause an immune compromised person to become ill. So, the flu can spread well in the ER. Avoid going there unless you really need to.
Everyone’s health situation is different. If you get sick with flu symptoms and are at high risk of complications or you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice.
For most of us, we should stay home when we’re sick so we can manage our symptoms and not infect others. You should see a healthcare provider for an evaluation if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Fever greater than 100.4 degrees that’s lasted more than four days (fevers may be intermittent).
- Fever that went away but has returned two or more days later.
- Coughing up mucus tinged with blood.
- Rattling chest sounds when taking a deep breath.
- Fainting spells, dizziness and/or severe dry mouth.
- Urinating less (or babies have less than three wet diapers per 24 hours).
- You are pregnant (pregnant women should seek immediate care if flu symptoms are present rather than making an appointment at an obstetrician's office).
- People younger than age 5 or older than age 65. People with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, cancer, etc. or other high-risk groups for complications from the flu.
BUT, you want to pay attention to the emergency signs of flu sickness. If you are experiencing any of the following, then YES – you should head to the emergency room:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
- Bluish or gray skin color.
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- Not waking up or not interacting.
- Sudden dizziness.
- Unable to talk in full sentences.
- Children who are so irritable they do not want to be held.
So remember: Stay home if you’re mildly sick, and contact your provider for advice if you’re very worried, and know the emergency signs listed above for when to head to the ER.
Remember these four steps to fight the flu:
- Get your flu shot.
- Wash your hands often.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home if you’re sick.
Learn more about the flu, where to get the shot, and more at www.tpchd.org/flu.
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