Opinion: ‘Tis the season… for the flu

This time of year people associate the phrase “Tis’ the Season” with joy, happiness and family. As medical professionals we associate it with flu. We start thinking about the flu in September when we are recommending the flu vaccine to all our patients. As the days and weeks go on, our focus switches to diagnosing and treating the flu and it various symptoms. This flu season there has already been several flu-related deaths around the country in both adults and children. Here in Addison County there have been many confirmed cases of flu. These statistics scare me every year and provide extra motivation for me to show my patients the value of the flu vaccine.
If patients do get the flu however, I want them to be well informed, get the appropriate treatment, and make sure those patients that are high risk get the care they need at the time they need it. Here is my advice in a nutshell. If you are sick with flu symptoms, in most cases you should stay home. You should avoid interactions with other people as much possible, as to limit spreading the flu. This interaction extends to medical professionals and the other patients that share the medical services.
Most people that get the flu are uncomfortable and experience fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting. These symptoms usually last about one week and typically peak around days three to five.
The symptoms, while unpleasant, usually do not require medical evaluation or treatment. There is also not a medical cure for the flu. The only cure is the prescription of time, however there is symptom relief available while you are waiting. I recommend Tylenol or anti-inflammatories to help with fever or pain. Staying well hydrated and resting helps the body heal itself.
You may be wondering about anti-viral medications and finding yourself confused about why this is not offered more frequently. The quick answer is that it is not a cure. It only reduces symptoms at best by 72 hours. We typically reserve these medications for patients that are considered “high risk.” This typically includes patients who are younger than 5 years old, adults over the age of 65, pregnant patients or those moms who recently gave birth, and nursing home residents. We also consider high-risk patients to be those with certain chronic medical conditions like asthma or COPD, diabetes, heart disease, and those that have a compromised immune system.
So, what should you do if you get the flu. Should I stay home? Do I need to see my provider? Should I get a flu test? Generally, speaking you do not need a flu test and most likely do not need to see your doctor. You should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever has gone. If you are very sick and have symptoms like trouble breathing, chest pain, or worsening of symptoms you should seek emergency medical attention. If you are one of the “high risk” patients, then you should speak to your provider about anti-viral medication.
Here’s to keeping you healthy and happy in the New Year!
Dr. Natasha Withers is the medical director of primary care at UVM Health Network Porter Medical Center in Middlebury.

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