When should you see a doctor for flu?

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WHEN you have the flu, one choice looms large in front of your feverish eyes: Should you drag your aching body out in the cold to go to the doctor or hospital, or should you just wrap yourself in blankets, drink fluids and stay put?
For sick people, there’s no downside to going to the hospital or seeking care from a professional, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The antiviral drugs that can help people with the flu work better if they are prescribed early on, he said.
In deciding whether to head to the doctor’s office or hospital, the main symptom that people should watch for is shortness of breath, Adalja told Live Science. “When someone is unable to breathe normally, that’s a sign the flu may be progressing to pneumonia,” and the person should definitely seek care, he said. Having difficulty breathing means that the infection has moved downward. Usually, the influenza virus infects the upper part of the respiratory tract, for example, the bronchi (the tubes that lead into the lungs), he said. If the infection moves down into the lungs and causes pneumonia, a patient can get worse very quickly. Another sign of a particularly severe case of the flu that needs treatment is an unrelenting fever, Adalja said. If a person has a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius) or higher, and the fever does not get better after taking acetaminophen or another over-the-counter medicine, then that person should see a doctor.
Fevers raise the heart rate, which takes a toll on the body, he said. Fevers can also make people feel especially miserable, so seek care if you feel that you cannot cope with your fever, he said.
A third reason to go to the doctor is a feeling of complete fatigue, to the point of being unable to do anything, and being completely confined to bed, he said.
Some groups of people are at higher risk of developing pneumonia or other complications from the flu, Adalja said. For example, pregnant women, people who have had organ transplants and cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy should strongly consider seeking care at the earliest signs of illness. In addition, people caring for young children or older adults should take them for treatment if they suspect the flu. Children under 6 months old, frail older adults and people with respiratory conditions such as severe asthma are at especially high risk of developing pneumonia during a flu infection, he said.

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