As you may already know, this year’s flu season has been a particularly potent one. While anywhere from 5% to 20% of the U.S. population will come down with influenza in a given year, this year’s infection rates are said to be the worst in nearly a decade. Flu and pneumonia caused 53,826 deaths back in 2010, and the CDC estimates that fatalities from this year will likely surpass those numbers.
Therefore, influenza must be taken seriously, especially among those in at-risk populations. Elderly individuals, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems need to take extra precautions when preventing and treating the flu. But even if you’re not in one of those demographics, you could still find yourself in a flu-related emergency.
A high fever is always cause for concern, specifically in children under three months of age. For any child with a fever of 100.3 or higher, it’s important to head to the emergency room. But adults may also need to go to the ER for flu symptoms if they’re experiencing difficulty breathing or breathing is painful; if they’re constantly vomiting and cannot keep fluids down; if they’re suddenly dizzy or too weak to stand; if they’re slurring their speech or are mentally foggy; if they’re experiencing severe chest or abdominal pain; or if their phlegm contains blood. While the flu may not always warrant a trip to the emergency room, it’s better to be safe than sorry and to seek out medical care sooner rather than later.
However, influenza can be tough to treat right away, as it can take one to four days for symptoms to even appear. And unfortunately, adults can be contagious starting the day before they start showing any symptoms -- and can stay that way for five to seven days after the illness has officially begun. Children may be considered to be contagious for even longer than that seven day period. Medical experts say flu treatments are most effective during the first day or two of the disease, but it’s no wonder that a lot of people miss this window; they probably don’t even know they’re really ill until it’s too late to treat (and until after it’s already spread to more people).
In a true flu-related emergency, going to the ER is an appropriate course of action. But in situations that are non-life-threatening -- like with a common cold or with mild flu symptoms -- going to urgent care can pay off (literally). While non-emergency medical situations handled in a hospital cost an average of $2,039, those same cases cost only $226 on average when treated at a walk-in clinic. By forgoing the crowded ER in favor of an urgent care facility when you simply need quick, effective treatment, you can save quite a bit and ensure you’re seen much sooner. Fast medical care can make all the difference, especially during flu season.
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