Fitzgibbon Hospital, Richard DeFord
Winter temperatures are not the only thing affecting Missourians this month. Cases of influenza in Missouri rose this month, with more than 1,560 laboratory-positive cases reported during week two of 2017, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. This brings the total number of infections to more than 6,128 in Missouri this season. So how do you know if you have the flu and not just a bad cold or other bug? Some common symptoms of influenza include running a fever of more than 100 degrees, aching muscles in the back, arms, and legs, chilling and sweating, headache, dry cough, fatigue, weakness and nasal congestion.
Many often wonder, what should I do if I have the flu? At what point do I see the doctor?
"Time to be concerned about the flu is when a person's body systems are beginning to become impaired," said Christopher Sporleder, D.O., physician at Marshall Family Practice in the Fitzgibbon Medical Clinic. "If they are having trouble breathing, not able to keep food or fluids down, or experiencing mental changes such as dizziness, balance or vertigo. This is particularly important if a person has a pre-existing condition such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, or other condition that impairs the body's ability to heal itself."
Sporleder noted that "Influenza is a 'self-limiting' disease, meaning that it fixes itself with time and the body's own immune system, so supporting that person with fluids, adequate rest, and food intake will usually take care of it."
However, the flu can be fatal for certain groups considered "at risk" for complications. The elderly, young children, pregnant women, or those with certain health conditions are particularly susceptible to complications from the flu. It is highly recommended that these individuals receive a flu shot before symptoms occur to decrease the risk of infection with the flu virus. If you have not received a flu shot, experience these symptoms, and you are in these risk groups, Sporleder suggests you contact your physician.
If you are not in these risk groups, you should stay home and away from others until 24 hours after your fever returns to normal, except to purchase medicine. Most people do not need to see a physician or go to the emergency room when they have influenza. There are warning signs, however, that immediate treatment from a physician may be necessary. Trouble breathing or if your breathing speed increases, the skin turns "bluish" in color, feeling thirsty or dehydrated, running a fever with rash, experiencing pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, or flu symptoms that disappear, only to reappear with fever and a worsened cough all point to signs of potentially life-threatening complications from the flu.
Parents often second guess when they should take their child to the doctor for suspected Influenza. For those parents, Sporleder offers words of encouragement.
"If the child is able to tolerate food and fluids, and is resting adequately, there is no treatment that is going to be any better from the doctor's office, Sporleder said. "However, if the child is becoming dehydrated, or is showing respiratory distress or having a difficult time breathing, can't sleep, can't stop coughing, or is showing mental changes beyond what you would expect, then it is time to bring that child in. Before that point, there is no real way to say that this child is not going to get over the flu like everyone else."
Some ways to treat influenza at home include use of oral or nasal decongestants to reduce swelling in nasal passageways. Antihistamines also help runny noses, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing and itching.
"Ibuprofen is great for fever control and for most cases, can be used by itself or alternated with Tylenol (acetaminophen) between doses to lower fever," continued Sporleder. "A fever needs to be treated if it is impairing the person's ability to take in food, fluid, or to get adequate rest. A small fever of a degree or two is not necessarily worrisome, but a fever above 104 needs treatment in all age groups."
Some over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines can cause drowsiness or cause hyperactivity. They can also interact with other drugs, so you will want to visit with your pharmacist before purchasing. Cough medicines often raise blood pressure, which can be a concern for those on medication for high blood pressure.
Also available to treat the flu are antiviral drugs which are prescribed medications that decrease the flu's ability to reproduce and may reduce the length of time that a person has the flu by a day or more. Antiviral drugs work best when they are taken within 48 hours after getting flu symptoms. However, they can also benefit some people if they are taken later.
"Duration of flu symptoms will generally resolve between two and five days for most individuals," said Sporleder.
For more information on how to receive a flu shot or for questions about treatment of the flu, schedule your appointment with the caring providers at Marshall Family Practice at 660-886-7800.