Every year, flu season engulfs West University Place in a cloak of sniffles, coughs, and a plethora of other symptoms that we all dread. Flu season in the United States typically peaks between December and February, although cases can begin to rise as early as October and persist until May. During this time, recognizing flu symptoms, distinguishing them from a common cold, and knowing when to seek emergency room (ER) care becomes paramount to safeguarding community health.
Every year, experts at the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track flu strains to predict which ones will be most prevalent during the upcoming season. This year, West University Place and its surrounding regions are expected to witness the usual surge in flu cases, typically beginning in the fall and peaking in the winter months.
Distinguishing Between a Cold and the Flu
Cold and flu share an array of symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, and congestion, which sometimes makes it a challenge to differentiate between the two. However, distinct variations exist in their onset and severity. A cold often unfolds gradually, and its symptoms are generally milder than those of the flu. Conversely, flu symptoms are notably severe and tend to emerge suddenly. Common cold symptoms are mild to moderate cough, gradual onset, sneezing, sore throat, and stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are abrupt onset, fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children). (Harvard Health Publishing)
Recognizing When to Seek ER Care
Despite the flu being a common seasonal ailment, it can escalate into a severe condition requiring immediate medical attention, particularly in high-risk individuals such as children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. The following scenarios typically warrant a visit to the ER:
In adults, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse, seizures, severe muscle pain, severe weakness or unsteadiness, and worsening of chronic medical conditions. In children, rapid breathing or trouble breathing, bluish lips or face, ribs pulling in with each breath, chest pain, severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk), dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying), not alert or interacting when awake, seizures, and fever above 104°F. In children less than 12 weeks, any fever or cough that improves but then returns or worsens or worsening of chronic medical conditions. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
West University Place residents can act promptly and seek ER care at Rice Emergency Room in Rice Village when these warning signs appear. This can be instrumental in preventing life-threatening complications.
The Role of Vaccination
Flu vaccination remains a cornerstone in mitigating the impacts of flu season. It reduces the risk of infection and the severity of the illness, should you contract the virus. Healthcare practitioners recommend annual flu vaccination for everyone aged six months and older, particularly those who are at higher risk of developing flu-related complications. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Navigating the flu season in West University Place requires a conscious effort from every resident. Recognizing the distinction between a cold and the flu, understanding the symptoms that require immediate medical attention, and adhering to vaccination guidelines are vital steps in managing the flu season effectively and safeguarding the health of our community. Stay safe, get vaccinated if you haven’t already, and always prioritize your health and the health of those around you.
Rice Emergency Room, with our 24/7 services, plays a pivotal role in ensuring correct diagnosis and accurate medical attention. Our BioFire PCR test diagnoses 22 respiratory illnesses including flu, RSV and COVID.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Is It a Cold or the Flu?” Harvard Health Blog, 2022, www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/is-it-a-cold-or-the-flu.
“Flu Symptoms & Complications.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022, www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm. “What Are the Emergency Warning Signs of Flu?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022, www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/emergency-warning-signs.htm.