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Published on December 05, 2012

Flu Season Starts Early -- Care Begins at Home

Cone Health is seeing an early start to the flu season with many people coming to its emergency departments and urgent care centers seeking care for influenza-like illness. Roughly 14 percent of people seeking care in Cone Health emergency departments and urgent care centers have flu-like illness which is nearly twice as many cases as usually seen. Laboratory tests have confirmed that many of the patients have influenza.

For most of those people with an influenza-like illness, an emergency department or urgent care visit is not needed. “Most otherwise healthy, young adults will recover on their own in 4 or 5 days,” says Tim Lane, Infection Disease Consultant, Cone Health. “People should stay home, take plenty of fluids, and treat their symptoms with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil and other brand names).” Lane also urges getting plenty of rest.

Lane’s stay-at-home advice is not for all flu sufferers. “The elderly, the very young and those with medical conditions, such as AIDS, cancer, kidney disease, sickle cell disease, and organ transplants, really need to see their primary care doctor at the first sign of flu symptoms,” says Lane. “Pregnant patients with such symptoms should also seek medical evaluation since influenza is more severe in pregnancy.”  Specific antiviral medications may be prescribed for such complicated patients but the medications have very limited benefit in the generally healthy majority who get flu.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that the flu season has come early and that parts of the country already have seen higher levels of flu-like illness that was seen in all of last year. Influenza usually puts up to 200,000 people in the hospital and claims between 3,000 and 49,000 lives a year according to the CDC.

Lane says that avoiding the flu begins with a flu shot. “Within a couple of weeks, you will have antibodies and some protection against the flu.” He also urges frequent hand washing for additional self-protection and for consideration of not spreading flu to others by coughing into an elbow or tissue and staying away from others if you are sick.

  Cone Health also urges those with flu-like symptoms to avoid visiting hospital patients.