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Got the flu? Here are tips on when to seek care

The flu is hitting Georgia hard, and hospitals across the state are seeing unusually high numbers of emergency department visits. Like other hospitals in the state, St. Mary’s Health Care System has seen a dramatic increase in patients coming to the emergency department with flu-like symptoms over the last two weeks.

Flu St. Mary'sThis unusually high volume means patients with uncomplicated flu symptoms can expect long wait times. St. Mary’s is joining other Georgia hospitals in urging patients with symptoms of the flu to consider whether they truly need emergency care. If emergency care is not needed, patients are advised to seek care from their primary care provider or an urgent care clinic instead of the emergency department. For most patients, flu can be managed with rest, fluids and over-the-counter medications.

“Our mission is to provide care to all who come to us,” said Titus Gambrell, St. Mary’s Chief Nursing Officer. “We continue to provide emergency care in the most timely manner possible, and non-emergency care as quickly as resources and patient volume allow.”

Like all emergency departments, St. Mary’s emergency departments in Athens, Lavonia and Greensboro use a triage system to determine the order in which patients receive care. Patients at highest risk of death or disability are seen first.

For most patients, seasonal flu is not a health emergency. Typical symptoms are: high fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills and fatigue. In children, symptoms may also include vomiting and/or diarrhea, which can cause dehydration.

Some patients are at increased risk of serious complications from the flu and should seek care immediately if symptoms arise. People at higher risk include elderly adults, very young children, people with chronic respiratory conditions such as COPD or asthma, and people with weakened immune systems such as patients undergoing chemotherapy or living with HIV.

Symptoms that warrant emergency care include high fever that does not respond to over-the-counter medications; dizziness, confusion, or other altered mental status; and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Persistent vomiting or diarrhea, while not common with the flu, can also create a medical emergency.

This year’s seasonal flu primarily is caused by a virus that mutated between the time the flu shot was developed and the start of flu season. Once symptoms appear, the best treatment is to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and see your doctor or pharmacist for medicines to control symptoms. The disease normally runs its course in 7-10 days, although fatigue may last longer.

Here are tips to avoid catching and spreading the flu:

  • Wash or sanitize your hands often.
  • Get a flu shot (it still offers strong protection against two strains of influenza and partial protection against the third).
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • When possible, avoid crowds.
  • If symptoms arise, stay home to protect others. Call your doctor and go out only if you need medical care.
  • If you are sick, do not visit people in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities or assisted living facilities.

For more information about the flu, visit or talk to your primary care physician.

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