VANCOUVER ISLAND – Influenza season is here and it can be serious. It's hit your household, bringing family members a nasty cough, aches and pains and fever. Influenza, the “flu,” can be a serious respiratory disease that contributes to the death of approximately 3,500 people a year in Canada. The best course of action for most people is to rest at home, but those who are elderly, young or have chronic diseases or other health conditions should seek care early.
“For most people who come down with a full case of the flu, staying at home, drinking fluids and taking acetaminophen is all they need,” says Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer. “But individuals with more severe symptoms, whose age puts them at increased risk, or who have underlying health problems should seek assistance.”
So when do you rest at home, and when do you contact your primary care provider or head for the emergency room? Here are some guidelines based on recommendations from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Home treatment tips
• Get plenty of rest.
• Drink plenty of extra fluids to replace those lost from fever.
• Avoid smoking or vaping and breathing other people's smoke.
• Breathe moist air from a hot shower or from a sink filled with hot water to help clear a stuffy nose.
• Anti-influenza drugs or antivirals are available by prescription, but these must be started early. The earlier they are started, the shorter the duration of symptoms. They may also reduce the chance of more severe health problems.
• Over-the-counter medications can help relieve symptoms such as pain and fever. Some of these may not be recommended for children under six years of age.
When should I see a health care provider?
If you or someone in your care experiences the following, seek care from your primary care provider or walk-in clinic:
• No improvement after three or four days or symptoms get worse
• Difficulty breathing
• Chest or abdominal pain
• Severe vomiting
• Signs of dehydration
Also seek care early if you have the following health concerns:
• Heart or lung disease
• Any chronic health concern that requires regular medical attention
• An immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment, or
• You are at risk of serious illness or complications
For an urgent medical condition, call 911 or visit the Emergency room.
If you aren’t sure if you have an urgent medical condition, call 8-1-1 to talk to a Registered Nurse and determine whether you should go to the nearest emergency department for treatment.
“An adult with difficulty breathing, chest or abdomen pain, dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting should head to the emergency room to be evaluated and given the care they need,” says Dr. Stanwick.
When can I resume work or other activities?
“It is recommended that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or to do the things no one else can do for you. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine like acetaminophen. Until that happens, you should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings,” Dr. Stanwick advises.
It isn’t too late to get your flu shot
The vaccine will protect against multiple strains of influenza and you will still benefit from getting the flu shot, even if you have been sick. Vaccines are available from a pharmacist or physician at many convenient locations. Visit Immunize BC’s Influenza Clinic Locator, call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, or contact your family doctor for more information. Find out if you are eligible for the free flu vaccine at viha.ca/flu.
Island Health, one of seven health jurisdictions in British Columbia, provides health care and support services to more than 765,000 people on Vancouver Island, the islands in the Salish Sea and the Johnstone Strait, and mainland communities north of Powell River.
With more than 20,000 staff, 1,900 physician partners, 6,000 volunteers, and the dedicated support of foundations and auxiliaries, Island Health delivers a broad range of health services, including: public health services, primary health care, home and community care, mental health and addictions services, acute care in hospitals, and much more across a huge, geographically diverse region.
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