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What's bugging you? How to tell if you have the flu - and what to do about it


THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- The weather has been messing with people all around Montgomery County, but it's also the peak of flu season. How do you know if you have flu, cold, allergies or simply a stomach bug?

"Flu starts with very generic symptoms like runny nose, congestion, headache, body aches, and fever," said Dr. Megha Tewari, a family medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Imperial Oaks. "These symptoms may also be prevalent in other viral illnesses or allergic reactions. Sometimes patients present with these symptoms, but may have another viral illness.  Other illnesses like sinusitis, ear infections or pharyngitis can also mimic early signs of flu.  Therefore, it is very important to see your primary care physician in their office for a thorough evaluation and ultimately treatment."

Tewari said 10 to 12 patients are testing positive for flu each day at the Imperial Oaks location alone. That's why it's important to understand what's going on and what you can do about it.

Woodlands Online had a few more questions for Dr. Tewari.

Q: Why do so many people say "I feel like I have the flu" but the rapid test shows otherwise?

A: There are times when we check the rapid test and it is negative.  This could occur if the test is done early on during onset of symptoms or 5-7 days later.  If your symptoms change or you get worse after a negative reading, it’s best to follow-up with your provider. 

Q: Is it really a good idea to go to the doctor if you think you have the flu? Aren't you risking making others ill?

A: I would urge patients to contact their doctor at the onset of flu symptoms, including headache, body aches, fever, chills, low appetite, nausea, congestion, runny nose, etc. Flu can cause many complications in young and old people that may need closer monitoring, or even hospitalization.

Q: How is the onset of flu different than other viruses?

A: When people are exposed to the flu virus, it can take 24-48 hours before symptoms start. Body aches and fever are usually the first few signs, and exhaustion and fatigue can cause people to feel like “they were hit by a truck.”  On the other hand, other viral illnesses may start with runny nose, congestion, sore throat and feeling tired, but may not limit their daily activities.

Q:  What's the point of being officially diagnosed with flu? The first 24-hours, anti-flu meds can help ... but beyond that? Is it helpful for record keeping for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)?

A: It is important to get diagnosed since flu is very contagious, and if you are infected, you can potentially infect everyone around you. Especially those who are immunocompromised or sick - they could be more susceptible to complications like breathing issues, fluid overload, or dehydration, which could result in hospitalization. Once diagnosed, it is good protocol for those in your household to start anti-flu medication. Being diagnosed also is helpful for record keeping.  It’s used to measure the potential spread of flu.  Also, in some cases, can help the CDC determine if it is widespread enough to give high-risk asymptomatic patients (nursing home residents, hospitalized patients) anti-flu medication prophylactically to limit the spread.

Q: Is it too late to get the flu shot? Some reports say it's only 10 percent effective...

A: Please get the flu shot. Normally we see flu cases well into April so any coverage, even if delayed, will help. The flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective for Flu A, so we are seeing mostly Flu A cases in our office. However, it is more than 70 percent effective for Flu B, and two other strains, so with the vaccine you are still getting coverage for the other three strains.

 

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