Flu Season Arrives In Ohio

Dr. Joseph Perkins with Joint Township District Memorial Hospital offers flu advice to residents.
Managing Editor

Joint Township District Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room Medical Director Dr. Joseph Perkins has a message for people as the flu season arrives; you do not need to be tested for influenza. 

It is a common problem Perkins and other doctors come across in the ER because it takes time and attention away from patients who may need greater care. Perkins said patients want to get tests using a flu swab to confirm if they have the virus or not, but for a virus that can be clinically diagnosed, it can instead hinder the hospital’s ER and urgent care’s resources to the best of its abilities.

“The problem with flu swabs is that it can take 20 minutes or more to get the results and for patients who are going to need more emergent care in the emergency room, it takes away from the care that we would be able to give to other people that are in the ER just waiting on the results of a test that aren’t going to impact the patient’s health,” Perkins said.

He said the U.S. typically follows the Australian and New Zealand flu seasons and prediction can be based on models of those country’s flu seasons. He said that based on the flu season that just passed in those countries, the U.S. is expected to experience the virus worse this year than last year.

“There are going to be more patients that are going to have influenza,” he added.

Symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and joint pain and possibly additional symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. The virus cannot be treated with antibiotics.

It is a clinical diagnosis that doctors can make based on someone’s symptoms and does not require testing. Perkins said doctors have begun to see flu patients more in the last two weeks as the flu season begins with some people coming to the hospital’s ER to get tested for the flu, where the unit is more for ruling out other things that may require antibiotics such as pneumonia. 

“If you come to our urgent care or you come to the emergency room and you have flu-like symptoms, we will essentially test for only the high-risk populations,” he said. “Not everyone needs a flu swab to be tested or treated and clinically be diagnosed with the flu.”

Perkins said high-risk populations are different. Those populations who are encouraged to go to the urgent care or the ER include pregnant women, young children — especially under the age of 5 — elderly, especially if they have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other medical issues that can cause the flu to be worse from them and people under chemotherapy or have a cancer diagnoses. 

“For those patients, they may be tested or we may just end up treating them,” he added. 

That treatment, he said, is more likely the antiviral Tamiflu (oseltamivir), which will decrease symptoms for about 12 hours, but the doctor reiterated that the medication will not eradicate the flu and it will not treat the flu, but it can help with symptoms.

If people feel that they have the flu, they should seek supportive care such as fluids, rest and managing fevers and pains with over the counter mediations. 

“The things you can do is good sleep hygiene, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, and staying hydrated can help prevent the flu, but if you do get the flu and you are not in one of those high-risk populations, it is symptom control and over the counter medication to help with your immune system,” he said. “You don’t necessarily need to take Tamiflu for treatment of the flu or for reduction of your symptoms.”

Perkins said if people are unsure if they have the flu or are not feeling well, doctors are always of assistance in the ER or the urgent care for their services appropriately, and if it is deemed someone does fall into the population that would benefit from a prescription such as Tamiflu, then doctors will graciously prescribe medication to those populations.

Perkins concluded that today’s society is the leading cause for people coming into the ER or urgent care to be tested for a virus that can be self-observed from home.

“It’s the society we lived in right now,” he said. “Everyone needs to know everything now, rather it is social media and you need to know what is going on in the lives of other people, that information is key and it is crucial everywhere.

“So to be able to name that it is influenza, I want to know that it is influenza and I want to know now. It is the society that we live in and the ability that we have to test for things, but if there is not an outcome based on what we are testing for, such as prescribing if you are not high-risk, then there is no need to do the testing.”