When to Seek Medical Care for the Flu

| Posted On Oct 24, 2018 | By:

The chances are pretty good that you’ve either seen or heard the message that, if you haven’t already done so, you should get a flu shot as soon as possible.

Although getting vaccinated doesn’t completely eliminate the risk that you’ll catch the flu, flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness and prevents millions of people from flu illness and flu-related doctor’s visits each year. Flu vaccination has also been shown to reduce the severity of illness.  It is the single most important step you can take to protect yourself and others against infection. Other ways to prevent getting or spreading seasonal flu include:

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

According to the CDC, the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalization. Flu can have very serious associated complications.

The fever and body aches usually last 2-3 days and rarely more than 5 days. A cough, tiredness, and weakness may last longer. Some people who get the flu may feel tired or weak for 2 or more weeks after the fever goes away.

Are You at High Risk for the Flu?

Unlike the common cold, real influenza is a major illness that can have life-threatening complications for people of certain ages or with specific high-risk conditions. This chart will help you determine if you are at high risk for complications from influenza.

When to Seek Medical Care for the Flu

But what happens if despite your best efforts you still get sick? Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) has helpful tips in this booklet, Flu: What You Can Do – Caring for People at Home. 

Call your provider if you or someone you’re caring for has the following symptoms:

Seek immediate medical care if you or an adult you’re caring for has the following symptoms:

Seek immediate medical care for a child with the following symptoms:

In addition to the signs above, seek medical care right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

For more information about seasonal influenza, visit the CDC or Massachusetts Department of Public Health websites.

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