Emergency room, urgent care or telemedicine? What to do when you have the flu

The New Year usually brings a surge in flu cases, which typically leads to increased visits to local emergency rooms. It can be difficult to know where to go for the flu, especially when you’re struggling with the symptoms. So where should you get medical care when you have the flu?

UnitedHealthcare of Texas and Oklahoma Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jerson Cadenas answers a few questions about flu prevention and what to do when you have the flu.

What are the ways to prevent the flu?

Dr. Cadenas: Prior to flu season arriving each year, it is vital to receive the vaccination in order to prevent contracting the virus. If you haven’t had your flu vaccine yet, it’s not too late. However, it’s important to note that the vaccination takes time to go into effect. Other preventative flu measures include consistently washing your hands, covering your cough and avoiding close contact with people who are sick to help stop the spread of germs.

Unfortunately, even when preventative measures are taken, some still fall victim to the flu virus. How do you know when to seek appropriate medical attention?

Dr. Cadenas: First of all, it’s important to be able to recognize flu symptoms, which include body aches, fever, cough, runny nose, chills, headache and a decrease in appetite. Symptoms may vary slightly from person to person but all are signs that it is time to seek treatment.

Where is the best place to go for treatment?

Dr. Cadenas: Common symptoms that are caught early can be handled with a visit to your primary care physician, who will run a swab test for diagnoses and provide treatment options. Another option is telehealth, which allows for immediate contact with a clinician who can provide care, advice and treatment. If symptoms become unmanageable and continue to linger, urgent care is also an option. All three of the above options may help prevent an unnecessary and costly visit to the emergency room.

When should you go to the emergency room for the flu?

Dr. Cadenas: If you are someone who suffers from a co-morbid or chronic health condition, it is vital to monitor symptoms closely and seek emergency medical attention when symptoms become uncontrollable. People with compromised immune systems, especially young children and the elderly, can experience potential complications that can become life-threatening. Examples include a high-grade fever, uncontrollable coughing, difficulty breathing and poor vital signs. Intervention is key for people with asthma, heart failure and diabetes.

Anything else that we should know about the flu season?

Dr. Cadenas: Never hesitate to check in with a doctor to let them know that you have flu-like symptoms. Responding to symptoms properly and taking quick action may help keep this miserable virus from lasting longer than necessary and may also prevent an expensive visit to the emergency room.

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