If you’re following the news, you know this year’s flu season is off the charts. We’ve seen a significant spike in November, with Flu A cases straining hospitals and doctors’ offices. The CDC estimates more than 4 million flu illnesses between October 1 and mid-November alone, with at least 38,000 hospitalizations and more than 2,100 deaths. The DMV region is experiencing particularly high rates of flu. However, we also know other respiratory illnesses are circulating, including COVID-19. How can you tell if you have the flu or something else? And what should you do if you think you have the flu?
What Is Usually The First Sign of Flu?
The flu is a respiratory condition caused by influenza viruses. Even though we sometimes refer to gastrointestinal viruses as “stomach flu,” those viruses aren’t related to influenza. The first sign of flu is usually a sudden high fever and chills. Sore throat and fatigue are also common early warning signs.
What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?
Common symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever and chills
- Body aches
- Cough (sometimes severe)
- Sore throat
- Although influenza is not a stomach bug, vomiting can occur. Vomiting with influenza often stems from a high fever and is more common in children than adults.
How Long Does the Flu Last?
Flu symptoms generally last 3 to 7 days but it can take longer to recover. Vaccination can shorten the length of symptoms, and if you catch the flu early, your doctor may recommend an antiviral medication. Remember: you’re contagious 5 to 7 days from the onset of symptoms. Staying home when you’re sick helps you recover and stops the spread of flu and other viruses.
How Can I Prevent The Flu?
With widespread influenza in our region, vaccination for children and adults is one of the most important ways to stay healthy and reduce transmission. In addition to getting your flu shot ASAP, other preventative measures include:
- Wash hands frequently.
- Disinfect surfaces.
- Avoid crowds or consider masking up in crowded indoor spaces.
Should I Treat Flu Myself or See a Doctor?
If you think you have the flu, it’s generally a good idea to get tested at your primary care provider’s office. However, in most cases, the recommended course of treatment is rest and fluids. You can also relieve symptoms with fever reducers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Flu is a viral illness, so antibiotics won’t help and are often counterproductive unless you get a secondary infection. Antiviral medications like Tamiflu can mitigate symptoms in severe cases. Tamiflu doesn’t cure the flu, but it can shorten symptoms if you catch flu symptoms early. Antivirals can also help prevent the flu in high-risk people. However, they have side effects and are not always effective, so they’re usually not recommended for healthy individuals. Seniors, young children and people with chronic conditions are at the highest risk of severe illness and may be candidates for antiviral treatments. Call your doctor right away or seek urgent care if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Dehydration/not urinating
- Prolonged or high fever
- Difficulty breathing
How Can My Primary Care Provider Help with the Flu?
If you have flu-like symptoms, call your primary care provider. They can test for flu and rule out other respiratory illnesses, including COVID. If you are in a high-risk category, your provider may recommend treatment with antiviral medication. PrimaPatient in Ashburn offers personalized internal medicine and primary care, including same-day sick visits. PrimaPatient also focuses on preventive care, ensuring you stay up to date on immunizations and maintain wellness routines. Now more than ever, establishing a relationship with a trusted primary care provider like Dr. Mamta Ojha of PrimaPatient is one of the best things you can do for your health.