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Sometimes, the flu is just the flu
Healthy Monday: Illness doesnt always require a visit to the doctor or emergency room
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Healthy Monday

Every Monday The Times looks at topics affecting your health. If you have a topic or issue you would like to see covered in our weekly series, contact senior content editor Edie Rogers via e-mail, Previous articles in the series can be found online at
With all the hype surrounding the H1N1 influenza virus, it is easy to forget that it is just the flu.

Bette Meisch, coordinator of infection control at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said people shouldn’t be too worried if they come down with flu-like symptoms.

“They are both very similar,” Meisch said. “The seasonal, as well as the H1N1, you have fever, sore throat, cough, body aches and chills.”

In most cases, medical care isn’t even needed.

Dr. John Lewellen, director of the emergency department at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said more people are coming to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms because they are paranoid about the H1N1 strain of the flu.

“The vast majority of people (with the H1N1 flu) are going to be fine in three to four days,” Lewellen said. “It’s just like any other flu.”

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to separate what is a run of the mill seasonal flu and what is the H1N1 flu, Lewellen said.

“There is no diagnostic test for it,” Lewellen said. “Your diagnosis is based on a presumption.”

The main thing that distinguishes the H1N1 strain from other influenza viruses is who it affects.

“Historically seasonal flu affected the elderly,” Meisch said. “H1N1 has been shown to disproportionately affect young people.”

Meisch said some additional symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea have been associated with the H1N1 flu as well.

The only time emergency care is necessary with the flu is when more severe symptoms appear.

Fast breathing or difficulty breathing, blue or gray skin color, and persistent fever or vomiting are signs that the illness is more advanced.

“In any of those cases those are the warning signs that you should call your doctor’s office or get them immediately for emergency care,” Meisch said.

Lewellen said going to the emergency room is actually worse if people are not truly ill. Care is more expensive and patients risk exposing themselves to other illnesses.

“Save the hospital for the people who are really sick,” Lewellen said. “The best advice is to stay out of the public.”

Meisch said the best way to avoid getting or spreading the flu is to get vaccinations, wash hands frequently and cough or sneeze into your sleeve rather than your hand. Avoiding contact between your hands and your eyes, nose and mouth will also help prevent catching a flu virus.

“You pass so many things to yourself by touching your hands to your face,” Meisch said.