Good Question: How Sick Is Sick Enough To See A Doctor?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The flu in Minnesota is so bad, some hospitals are restricting visitors. Clinics are overwhelmed with patients, and nurse’s hotlines have long waiting times.

So when are you sick enough to actually go to the doctor?

“Fever and cough. If you don’t have a cough, it’s very unlikely you have the flu,” said Dr. Carolyn McKay, a pediatrician at Fairview Clinics- University Children’s.

She says the fever should be 100.5 degrees or higher, and 90 percent of those who test positive for flu have a high fever, too.

“When you get flu first you’re afraid you’re gonna die,” she said. “Then you’re afraid you’re not gonna die. You really feel awful. It’s muscle ache, headache, it can be nausea.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said in the past couple weeks, 5.6 percent of all doctor’s visits has been for the flu. Last year at the peak of flu season, it was just 2.2 percent.

But sitting in a waiting room can expose you to illness, if you’re not sick.

“We’re well aware that you’re going to sit in the waiting room with someone who has flu, and you’ll get coughed on. It’s even worse if you go to the emergency room,” McKay said.

And the reality is that in many cases there’s no rush.

“I would say, watch for 24 hours, because a common cold starts with runny nose and cough,” she said. “But if the fever is going into a second day, you might want to be seen.”

It’s not like doctors can cure the flu. If they see you in the first 48 hours, they can prescribe Tamiflu. But that only shortens your sick time, according to McKay.

“Instead of being sick for 5 or 6 days, you’re sick for 4 or 5 days,” she said.

The flu is a virus, so it generally just runs its course. Getting enough fluids is key to staying out of the hospital, and staying isolated is important so you don’t pass it on.

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