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Should I Go to the ER if I Have the Flu?

Communicable Disease Program Manager Kayla Scrivner
by Kayla Scrivner03/22/2019 10:52 a.m.
Updated: 03/22/2019

You should take influenza seriously. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a spike in flu activity across the state. This past week, positive flu tests rose to the highest point this season.

All of this may seem scary. You might think if you get the flu, you should get emergency care right away. With this late-season spike in flu activity, we’ve seen more and more people seeking treatment in emergency rooms. The short answer is most people don’t need to go to the ER because of the flu.

How the flu has hit Pierce County.

As of March 19, the 2018-2019 flu season looks like this in Pierce County:

  • 27 influenza-associated deaths since Oct. 22, 2018.
  • 472 residents hospitalized with influenza.
  • 83% of people hospitalized had at least one condition that increased their risk of flu-related complications. The most common conditions:
    • Obesity.
    • Diabetes.
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
    • Congestive heart failure.

In most cases, the flu is mild.

The flu is mild for most healthy people. 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. The best protection against the flu is a flu shot.

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, contact your healthcare provider for advice.

Signs you should head to the ER.

Pay attention to the emergency signs of flu sickness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with these warning signs should seek medical care right away:

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
  • Bluish lips or face.
  • Ribs pulling in with each breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk).
  • Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying).
  • Not alert or interacting when awake.
  • Seizures.
  • Fever above 104°F.
  • In children less than 12 weeks, any fever.
  • Fever or cough that improves but then returns or worsens.
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions.

In adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse.
  • Seizures.
  • Not urinating.
  • Severe muscle pain.
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness.
  • Fever or cough that improves but then returns or worsens.
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

These lists are not all inclusive. Consult your healthcare provider for other severe or concerning symptoms.

Stay home if you’re mildly sick, contact your provider for advice if you’re worried, and know the emergency signs listed above for when to head to the ER.

Remember these four steps to fight the flu:

  1. Get your flu shot.
  2. Wash your hands often.
  3. Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  4. Stay home if you’re sick.

Learn more about the flu, including where to get a flu shot at www.tpchd.org/flu.

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Communicable Disease Program Manager Kayla Scrivner

by Kayla Scrivner

Kayla helps coordinate our efforts with healthcare provider partners in our communities.

 

We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.