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When to Visit Urgent Care If You Think You Have the Flu

December 29, 2022

When to Visit Urgent Care If You Think You Have the Flu

The U.S. is facing a tripledemic this winter as three highly contagious respiratory viruses - respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, and COVID-19 - circulate throughout the country, making people sick. Many of these viruses have overlapping symptoms, so we are launching a series of blogs on respiratory illnesses to help patients understand how each virus presents, spreads and what to do if you show symptoms. First, we take a closer look at the flu.

What is Influenza?

Influenza (flu) is a respiratory virus that attacks the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 2010 and 2020, the flu caused between 9 million and 41 million illnesses a year, resulting in 140,000-710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-52,000 deaths annually. These numbers vary year to year based on the severity of the flu season. Cases of flu this season are already very high in most states. (Check out the CDC’s Weekly U.S. Map that tracks influenza.)

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms usually come suddenly, compared to cold symptoms which tend to build gradually. If you have the flu, you may experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* and chills (*not everyone with flu will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (these symptoms are more common in children than adults)
  • Fatigue


High-Risk Individuals

Children younger than five (but especially children younger than two), adults over age 65, pregnant women (including people up to two weeks after the end of a pregnancy), and people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems are at high risk of severe illness or death from the flu.

When to Go to Urgent Care

Most flu cases can be treated at home with rest and fluids, and most healthy people will recover within a week. However, if you have flu symptoms and are at increased risk of complications, or if you care for someone at high risk, you should contact your primary care provider or visit an urgent care center to get tested for flu. Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have the flu because symptoms overlap with many other respiratory viruses. Testing should happen less than 3-4 days after the onset of symptoms. A doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu, to lessen the severity and duration of your illness. Antivirals may also prevent serious complications, like pneumonia, but treatment is most effective when started early.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

The tripledemic is putting a strain on emergency rooms. You should only go to the emergency room if you are severely ill or experiencing any of these emergency symptoms:

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 improve but then return or worsen
  • 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 improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical condition


Treating Flu at Home

Help your body fight the flu faster by getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of liquids to stay hydrated. A steamy shower and a cool-mist humidifier can help ease congestion, and ibuprofen and acetaminophen can reduce fevers and dull aches and pains. Try to stay away from well people in your home, so they don’t get sick. You should stay home, except to get medical care, until you feel better and have been fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Preventing Illness

The most important thing you can do to prevent the flu is to get your flu shot. Everyone ages 6 months and older is eligible to get a flu shot. You can get one at any Carewell Urgent Care center, and the cost is covered by most insurance.

Here are some other tips to prevent the spread of germs this winter:

  • Stay home if you are sick. You should not go to work, school, daycare, or any social gatherings until you feel better.
  • Wash your hands. Frequent hand washing can stop the spread of some germs. If soap and water are unavailable, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used.
  • Avoid touching your face. Germs can enter our bodies through our eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue if you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect high-touch items such as phones, door handles, light switches, remotes, and keyboards.




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