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Flu Season: When is it an Emergency?

Flu Season is just ahead, and The Salt River Fire Department has some tips on what to do if your flu turns into an emergency situation.

Flu Symptoms Flu symptoms can include high fever, headache, body aches, extreme fatigue, sore throat, chills, cough, and stuffy or runny nose. Your healthcare provider may prescribe anti-viral medications, which work best within 48 hours of the earliest signs of the flu. The flu is unpleasant for everyone, but some people are at greater risk for serious flu-related complications, including young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with certain long-term medical conditions (listed below).

Statistically, more people may experience influenza-like illness, or ILI, than are actually diagnosed with the flu. With ILI, patients experience flu symptoms, yet are not infected with the influenza virus.

Treatment is often the same as for the flu: drinking fluids, taking over-the counter pain relievers and getting plenty of rest.

Should I go to the emergency room or call 911 if I have the flu?

Unless you are very ill, the ER should not be the first place to go for flu care. Call your doctor at the earliest signs of flu, and you may be prescribed medications such as Tamiflu to help alleviate the symptoms.

To avoid the risk of spreading the flu, or consuming critical care resources when you don't need to, call your primary care provider and see if you can rest and recover at home. Get lots of rest, use over-the-counter pain relievers for fever and aches, drink plenty of fluids, and follow your doctor's advice.

However, if you get the flu and experience any of the emergency warning signs below, if you are very sick, or if you have a condition with a high risk of flu complications, don't hesitate to call your doctor or healthcare provider, and consider emergency treatment.

How do I know it's an emergency?

If you or a family member have the flu and experience the signs below, contact your health provider immediately.

Emergency warning signs in children:

  • Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking fluids
  • Not waking or interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child doesn't want to be held
  • Fever with a rash
  • Symptoms that improve but then come back with a fever and worse cough

For an infant, get emergency help immediately if:

  • They are unable to eat
  • Have trouble breathing
  • No tears when crying

Emergency warning signs for adults:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Pressure or pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting
  • Symptoms that improve but come back with fever and worse cough

Health- and Age-Related Risks

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list the following conditions as known to increase a person's risk of complications from the flu:

  • Asthma
  • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
  • Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
  • Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
  • Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes)
  • Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
  • Morbid obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
  • People younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin therapy
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)

Other people at high risk from the flu:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Newborns and children up to 5 years old (especially children younger than 2 years old)
  • People with chronic conditions
  • Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm or talk with your healthcare provider.

Flu and People with Diabetes

People with diabetes (type 1 or type 2), even when well-managed, are at high risk of serious flu complications, often resulting in hospitalization and sometimes even death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. The flu also can make chronic health problems, like diabetes, worse. This is because diabetes can make the immune system less able to fight infections. In addition, illness can make it harder to control your blood sugar. The illness might raise your sugar but sometimes people don't feel like eating when they are sick, and this can cause blood sugar levels to fall. So it is important to follow the sick day guidelines for people with diabetes.

Vaccination is the Best Protecion against Flu

CDC recommends that all people who are 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. It is especially important for people with diabetes to get a flu vaccine.

  • Flu shots are approved for use in people with diabetes and other health conditions. The flu shot has a long, established safety record in people with diabetes.

People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia because of the flu, so being up to date with pneumococcal vaccination is also recommended. Pneumococcal vaccination should be part of a diabetes management plan. Talk to your doctor to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you.

Take everday perventive actions to stop the spread of flu:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after using it;


  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing;


  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth (germs are spread that way)


  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms you should stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).


  • Everyday preventive actions can protect you from getting sick and, if you are sick, can help protect others from catching your illness.

Treating Influenza

  • If you do get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor early in illness because prompt treatment is recommended for people who are at high risk of serious flu complications and who have influenza infection or suspected influenza infection.


    • Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drugs work best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start)


    • Antiviral drugs can make your flu illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness.


    • There are three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat the flu. These medicines fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.


    • For you to get an antiviral drug, a doctor needs to write a prescription. These medicines fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.