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Authored by Dr. Rona Heublum-Colton, Urgent Care Medical Director for the Greater Hudson Valley Health System
MIDDLETOWN – In school districts and office buildings throughout the Hudson Valley, we have seen scores of people, young and old, going down like dominoes to outbreaks of flu and norovirus – commonly known as the “stomach bug.” Both illnesses have taken a heavy toll this year, and with two months of cold conditions yet to come, it’s important to know how to avoid becoming part of the statistics.
Despite a lot of theories on how the flu and stomach bug get around, the most medically sound theory is that people who are cooped up during cold weather months share a lot more than just tighter spaces – they share more germs, too.
Families, classmates, coworkers, we’re all indoors all the time. With a single sneeze or one shared surface that goes uncleaned, viruses can spread from one person to the next.
Flu season typically kicks off in early winter and last thru the early spring. It’s symptoms are very specific:
The sudden onset of fever and chills
A runny nose and sore throat
Overall, you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Interestingly, the flu does not typically include nausea or related symptoms. Typically, flu manifests in temperature and aches.
Norovirus / Stomach Bug Symptoms
The norovirus – what we refer to as the stomach bug – is the one that brings the nasty symptoms like:
Similar to the flu, its onset is sudden. But, unlike the flu, the stomach bug can clear up within 24 hours to three days. Flu symptoms can easily affect you for five to seven days, and leave you recovering and feeling run down for two weeks.
Prevention & Treatment of Flu Viruses
Stopping the spread of these viruses is so tricky because we get infected and are contagious a good day or two before we even realize we’ve been hit. And, all it takes is someone in the next cubicle to rub their nose or eyes, then use a shared space in the office, and that’s it. A computer at school, a shopping cart at the grocery store, a blanket on the couch – anything can pass the germ. Only vigilance in hand washing and keeping shared spaces clean can prevent the spread of viruses.
Since viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics, riding out the lifespan of your symptoms is pretty much your only recourse. But, you can receive some reprieve by visiting a healthcare provider. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you will want to choose either an Urgent Care or Emergency Room facility.
The rule of thumb I give patients is that if the symptoms are such that they would feel okay going to their primary physician, then an Urgent Care visit will do. Anyone considering 9-1-1 because of abnormally severe symptoms should consider the Emergency Room. Still not sure which is appropriate for your symptoms? Click here to read more tips on whether to choose Urgent Care or the Emergency Department for the treatment of your flu symptoms.
Due to its gastrointestinal symptoms, the stomach bug can often lead to dehydration. Although that can become serious if left untreated, the related discomfort can easily be handled by Urgent Care doctors. A prescription to ease your nausea can get you headed in the right direction, without having to visit a potentially hectic Emergency Room.
The best way to stay healthy during flu season and avoid the stomach bug? Wash your hands – a lot! It will help keep you from picking up the bug, or from passing it along if you’re already infected.
Rona Heublum-Colton, MD, is Board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine as well as a diplomate of the American Board of Urgent Care Medicine. Dr. Heublum-Colton is Urgent Care Medical Director for Greater Hudson Valley Health System