Navigating cold and flu season

flu and cold seasonIt’s that time of year again when coughs, sniffling noses and scratchy throats become commonplace.  Among all those patients dealing with common cold viruses are people with more severe infections such as influenza or bacterial pneumonia.   It can be difficult for people to know when they should see a healthcare provider and when they can feel comfortable waiting for something to “just run its course.”


Joe Mattern M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Jefferson Healthcare provides some guidelines to navigate:


“When a patient suddenly starts with a high fever (temperature greater than 100.4 degrees) along with cough, sore throat and severe body aches, we begin worrying that it could be influenza when we are in the Fall and Winter seasons.   It is particularly important for people with chronic health conditions such as lung and heart disease to be seen within 24-48 hours for evaluation since flu treatment may be an option for them.  Visits can often be done at their Primary Care office or at an Express (Same Day) Clinic or urgent care.  It is often best for children with chronic health conditions or under the age of 2 to be seen promptly as well since they can have complications.” 


While most influenza can be diagnosed and treated in an office setting, there are times when care should be done in the Emergency Room.


“Any patient who is having problems with their breathing or having mental changes such as drowsiness or confusion should be brought to the Emergency Room for care right away.   This could represent influenza if they have a cough and fever but it could also represent bacterial pneumonia or another type of infection.”


For most people, this cold and flu season, a tincture of time works best.


“Most cold medicines don’t shorten the length of illness but they can have some side effects including drowsiness.  I often recommend a tablespoon or two of honey to help with cough (particularly for children over the age of 1) as that has been shown to be as good or better than most medicines.  Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be helpful for aches and fever.  Most viral respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and sinusitis will have multiple symptoms such as cough, runny nose, and sore throat that are the worst in the first week and then should gradually improve.   Symptoms going on 2 weeks or more should prompt a visit as should focal symptoms such as ear pain or sore throat particularly if there is a fever.  Also, younger kids will often have a fever with their colds but that usually resolves in under 5 days.  Fever longer than that needs a visit with their primary care provider. “

Jefferson Healthcare Emergency Department is open 24/7.

Express Clinic is open daily, 9am – 7pm, walk-in only.

Primary Care Clinics are open Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm.  Phone numbers and locations can be found here.

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