What you should do if you think you have the flu

The state says emergency rooms and urgent care clinics are filling up with patients who think they have the flu, but only 10 percent test positive for the illness.

At the Urgent Care Clinic in Pearl City the number of patients coming in with flu-like symptoms is on the rise.

“Compared to previous years, we’ve actually seen a lot more flu during the month of January. Three weeks ago, we saw an increase spike and it’s been ongoing. So we’re seeing a lot of patients coming in with flu-like symptoms testing positive for both Flu A and B this year,” said Dr. Pani Shoja of Urgent Care Pearl City.

According to state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park, Hawaii is starting to see an increase in flu cases.

“We’ve been concerned since we heard about the activity on the mainland because we knew that it was inevitable. We start to see stuff going on here and we usually see it starting about a month afterwards, and sure enough, we’re starting to see stuff,” said Park. “We’ve just come off the holidays. People probably went to the mainland. They’re coming back sick.”

While it is flu season, Park says other viruses and bugs are out there.

“If you looked at our surveillance numbers, only 10 percent of what’s actually being tested is coming back positive for flu, which means 90 percent is something else,” she said.

So when should patients go to the emergency room or other clinics?

“It’s a difficult decision to make. But overall, for the most part, I tell my patients that if they’re having any severe symptoms, any chest pain, any shortness of breath, fevers over 101.5 (degrees) that they can’t control with Tylenol, Motrin and if they can’t keep down fluids, definitely go to the emergency room,” said Shoja.

High-risk patients like young keiki, the elderly and people with medical issues should be see a physician within 48 hours of symptoms.

“We have high-risk patients and that would include patients under the age of two, that would include patients over the age of 65 and anyone who’s immunity is compromised, HIV, asthma, diabetics. Those are all high-risk patients and they should definitely be seen and their physician might consider treating them with an anti-viral called Tamiflu,” said Shoja.

Health experts say it’s also important to wash your hands and keep your distance from those who are sick. If you’re already sick, you should stay home.

Park says it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Even though this year’s vaccine isn’t completely effective, she says some protection is still better than none.

“This year our vaccine is not as effective because one of the strains has mutated, has drifted… and that strain is actually dominating the season right now,” said Park. “You have to remember there are other strains of flu circulating and we know from experience that early on in the season, there may be one strain dominating, but as the season progresses, we can see another strain start to dominate, and those other strains could be covered by the vaccine.”

For more information on the flu, visit the Department of Health’s website.

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