Educated patients know when and why to go to the doctor this flu season


As temperatures drop and snow starts to fall, it could mean the waiting game at a doctor's office and flu season is here so you could be feeling a little under the weather. A family physician with St. Mary's Hospital said that they saw a respiratory virus in mid-October, and now marks the midst of flu season. But doctors said more informed patients may have a better idea of when and why to visit their doctor.

"There was a time where when people thought they needed an antibiotic for everything and as soon as they had a sniffle they'd be in the office" according to Dr. Kimberley Hanneken a family physician with St. Mary's Hospital.

But these days patients may not just be checking up on a cough or a sneeze. They may have already grabbed their own over-the-counter remedy.

"Everyone has a different threshold for how lousy they're willing to feel before they come into the doctor," Dr. Hanneken said.  "We've really done a good job educating the public that we don't need to do an antibiotic for a viral illness."

But continuous symptoms of thick nasal drainage, fatigue, headaches or coughing up mucous could land you in the doctor's chair.

"Usually when they're coming into my office they're pretty sick by this point," she said.

A map updated regularly from the CDC shows people the geographic spread of influenza. In Illinois, as of the week ending Nov. 2, there was no activity.

"I haven't seen any influenza yet but it's just a matter of time," Dr. Hanneken said.

And schools are preparing for what could be a wave of illness around break times.

"It seems that when families and friends get together in large groups, then illness starts. They like to share the germs," Registered Nurse and Health Services Coordinator Terri Luckenbill said with a laugh.

So instead of spreading the germs, people should wash their hands, grab a tissue and stay well this winter.

While people may be looking for a quick fix to aches, doctors said that rest is the best medicine someone can take. And if people are taking over-the-counter drugs and symptoms persist for 10 to 14 days, then it would be time to call a doctor.

Luckenbill added that right now nurses are noticing a stomach virus spreading around students. The virus causes nausea, vomiting, fever and coughs. Doctors also reminded that the flu shot does not protect against stomach bugs.

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