Know sooner, feel better faster
We’ve all been there. You wake up exhausted, with aches, a fever and chills. You’re sick, and you feel awful. You ask yourself, “do I have the flu?”
With flu season upon us – which can often last from fall to spring – it’s entirely possible.
If you (or a loved one) are experiencing flu symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention to be diagnosed.
What are symptoms of the flu?
Flu symptoms caused by the influenza virus come on quickly and are more severe than those of a cold. Symptoms commonly include:
- Widespread body aches
- Chest discomfort and harsh, dry cough
- Extreme tiredness/fatigue
- High fever
- Sometimes nausea and diarrhea
“If you think you have the flu, it’s best to discuss your symptoms with your health care provider who will help you determine your next steps,” says Dr. Richard Martin, a family medicine physician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton.
In some cases, this might mean getting a flu test.
What’s a flu test?
Other illnesses can feel like the flu, so a flu test helps your healthcare provider accurately diagnose you and get you back on your feet as soon as possible.
“Many clinics across the country use a rapid flu test, also known as a rapid antigen test, to test patients for the flu,” says Dr. Martin. “However, rapid flu tests are only accurate about 50 percent of the time and are typically best when performed within the first 48 hours of the onset of your symptoms.”
Geisinger clinics and hospitals perform a high-level nucleic acid genetic test. These tests are performed like a rapid flu test (and also use a nasal swab), but are about 98 percent accurate at diagnosing the flu.
So, what does this mean?
You get a correct diagnosis and your healthcare provider can get you on the road to recovery faster.
How is the flu treated?
Whether your healthcare provider diagnoses you using a flu test or based on your symptoms, he or she will recommend the best treatment plan. This often means one of two options.
“The flu is caused by the influenza virus, so antibiotics won’t help your symptoms,” says Dr. Martin. However, the flu can be dangerous for children, the elderly and those at a high risk of developing complications.
Depending on how long you’ve been sick, your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medication (like Tamiflu).
“Antiviral medications are most effective if taken during the first 48 hours of your illness, can help you feel better sooner and may prevent serious complications such as pneumonia,” says Dr. Martin.
Plenty of rest and fluids
If your healthcare provider decides that antiviral medications aren’t right for you, he or she will suggest plenty of rest and fluids. You can also ease your symptoms with home remedies and over-the-counter medicines.
No matter your treatment plan, make sure you stay home and rest to avoid infecting others! “You’re more likely to spread the flu when you have a fever, so stay home until you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours,” says Dr. Martin.
The best way to prevent yourself from getting the flu is by getting a flu shot. It’s not too late – even if you’ve already had the flu. Visit your primary care physician or find one near you.