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How to Fight the Flu

Updated December 10, 2019
Get a flu vaccine, wash your hands, and see a doctor if you experience flu-like symptoms to avoid getting sick this flu season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. between December and February. Do you know how to tell if what you have is a cold or the flu?

Flu-Like Symptoms

The flu usually comes on suddenly with some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

If you don’t want the flu this season, follow these tips.

Get the Flu Vaccine

According to the CDC, everyone six months of age and older should get the flu vaccine as soon as the current season’s vaccines are available.

Many places offer the vaccine at a minimal cost. You can visit your local pharmacy, clinic or primary care doctor’s office, or check with your employer to see if they offer the vaccine on-site.

Avoid Sick People

If you can, stay away from people who are ill. If you are sick, stay home to avoid spreading your germs to others. 

Wash Your Hands

Hand hygiene plays an important role in preventing the spread of colds and flu. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, especially before you eat.

If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do next. Here’s what our experts recommend.

When to Go to Primary Care

“Patients experiencing flu symptoms should contact their health care provider,” says Christopher Rayala, MD, a family medicine doctor with Duke Primary Care Morrisville. “Antiviral therapy has the greatest benefit when taken within 24 to 30 hours of symptom onset. Adults over 65, children younger than one, pregnant women and individuals with asthma, heart disease, active malignancy, chronic liver disease, diabetes or HIV, should consult their primary care provider as soon as possible, as they have a higher risk for complications from the flu.”

When to Go to Urgent Care

You should seek medical attention at urgent care if you have typical flu-like symptoms that could also include lightheadedness, decreased urination, muscle stiffness, chest pain, or shortness of breath.

“Even if you take fever-reducing medicine, you could still have complications that would benefit from seeing a doctor right away,” says Ann Dorsey, MD, a family medicine doctor with Duke Urgent Care Brier Creek. “If you’re unsure about the severity if your symptoms, it’s important to talk to a doctor before things get worse and you could potentially spread your illness.”

If you can’t wait until your primary care provider’s office opens to receive treatment, Duke Urgent Care locations are open 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week, and you can even track up-to-date wait times. Time slots at urgent care clinics can be reserved online through My Duke Health (previously Duke MyChart). On-call doctors are also available for virtual visits 24/7 with Duke Health Anywhere.

When to Go to the ER

“Most of the time, flu-like illnesses can effectively be managed in your doctor’s office or urgent care,” says Ted LaMay, MD, an emergency medicine doctor at Duke Regional Hospital. “It is best to go to the emergency room if you are over 70 and suffering shortness of breath, having chest pain, have confusion, can’t keep hydrated, or have severe underlying illnesses like COPD, diabetes or heart disease.”

No matter where you go for medical care, notify the staff of your symptoms when you get there, so they can give you a mask. This helps prevent the spread of the illness to other patients who may be nearby.

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