Dear patients of the Niagara North Family Health Team
We are in the midst of a huge outbreak of viral illnesses, some of which are “colds” and some of which are influenza (“the flu”). Our urgent care clinics have become extremely busy, as you may have found out. Many people think “the flu” means vomiting and diarrhea, but it does not. Influenza is mainly an illness of cough, fever and muscle aches.
We doctors still (sadly) cannot cure the common cold, no matter how long you have had it, even after weeks. Antibiotics do not help, because colds and flu are caused by viruses and not bacteria. We recommend you stay home, drink fluids and treat any fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. We can treat influenza with specific antiviral medications, but these are reserved for people who are very ill and need to be given within 48 hours of the start of the illness in order to be effective.
Here is some more information (courtesy of Niagara Region Public Health) to consider before you call your doctor or the urgent care clinic:
What are the symptoms of flu?
Some people get mildly ill, while others get very sick. Most people recover from the flu in 7 to 10 days. Others may develop serious complications, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), and may need hospital care.
Flu symptoms usually include the sudden appearance of:
- high fever (39°C and above)
- muscle aches
Other common symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- fatigue (tiredness)
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
Some people, especially children, may also experience:
- a stomach ache
- nausea and vomiting
- It takes 1 to 4 days for flu symptoms to appear after exposure to the virus.
Differences between the flu and a cold
A cold infects just your nose and throat, while the flu also affects your lungs.
Cold symptoms are unpleasant but are usually milder than the flu. They include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
What do you do if you become ill?
If you are mildly ill, stay home and avoid contact with other people until your symptoms are gone. This will help prevent the spread of the virus.
If you are a person at high risk of flu-related complications, contact your health care provider. Tell them about your symptoms.
See a health care provider immediately if you develop any of these symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- fast or trouble breathing
- pain in your chest
- blueish or grey skin colour
- bloody or coloured mucous in your mouth or spit
- sudden dizziness or confusion
- severe or ongoing vomiting
- a high fever (39°C and above) that lasts more than 3 days
These symptoms might indicate that you have developed pneumonia, in which case an antibiotic might help.
Tell your health care provider about your flu symptoms over the phone before your appointment. That way, they can arrange to see you without exposing other people to the virus.
Also see a health care provider if you are caring for a child who is sick with the flu and is:
- not drinking or eating as usual
- not waking up or interacting with others
- irritable (not wanting to play or be held)