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Flu season: When to visit doctor, ER, and when to stay home

January 15, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
We're starting to feel the full brunt of the flu epidemic. Doctors say emergency rooms and urgent-care clinics are filling up with people complaining of flu-like symptoms. But experts say there are times when the E.R. is appropriate. Other times, you can stay home.

Many emergency rooms, urgent cares and doctors' offices are all reporting an influx of sick visits. The reports about the severity of this year's flu season is causing widespread concern. So when should you seek medical care? Experts say the answer is quite simple.

"Most of the time you don't really need to see the doctor," said Dr. John Rodarte, Descanso Pediatrics.

Pediatrician Dr. John Rodarte says knowing when to go to your doctor, urgent care or emergency room is a lot simpler than you might think.

First, ask yourself: Is there a serious underlying symptom, something your child may be admitted for?

"So if your child is in respiratory distress, and what we mean by that would be having really difficulty breathing, not because they're stuffy in the nose, but because they're having trouble breathing from the lungs," said Rodarte.

"The second thing would be dehydration, if your child's not been drinking enough fluids, or really if anybody, if you're not drinking enough fluids, and therefore not urinating well, getting dehydrated, you might need IV fluids, you might also need admission," said Rodarte.

Another telltale sign that something is very wrong is when a person starts to get better and then they take a turn for a worse.

"That to me would also send you to your doctor," said Rodarte. "It's kind of the same thing if you've had a fever, it's been gone for two or three days, and then the fever returns, that again could be a sign of a secondary infection."

Whether a child or adult, pneumonia is probably the most common secondary infection that doctors worry about.

As for the urgent care, it's a place to go if you're doctor's office isn't available.

"An urgent care center is set up to up to deal with things that are going to be an outpatient basis: coughs and colds, flus, urinary tract infections," said Rodarte.

How long have you or your child been sick? Length of symptoms is another indicator.

The best way to treat the flu: rest, fluids and supportive care at home.

Many infectious disease experts say that going to the doctor's often results in the spreading of more germs.


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