How do you know if you've got the flu?

If you get the flu, you're probably wasting your time to go see your doctor.

Walk into any clinic in Minnesota right now and there's a good chance it'll be filled with coughing, sneezing, aching, flu-ridden people. 

"In my memory, it's the worst since the 2009-10 year, which was that awful year that we called it the 'Swine flu,'" Hennepin County Medical Center's internal medicine physician, Dr. David Hilden, told GoMN. "Easily the worst one in six, seven, eight years."

Flu is widespread across the state and this year's main culprit, the H3N2 strain, is gaining a reputation as a nasty pain in the you know what. 

"That's the predominant one this year," Hilden says. "It's particularly nasty this year. The flu vaccine is less effective this year than we would hope."


This year's most common flu strain is particularly nasty

What to look out for

If you're vomiting or can't stop running to the bathroom, you probably don't have the flu. In those cases, you've likely got a different stomach bug, Hilden says.

The main symptoms of this year's flu: 

  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever

"The fever makes you feel awful and you almost never can go about your daily business with the flu," Hilden says, while pointing that it's a respiratory illness and it's "far less common to have upset stomachs." 

And it usually comes on very fast, sometimes within hours where you'll go from feeling fine to suddenly feeling like you've been hit by a truck. 

Most people will experience symptoms for 3-4 days, sometimes up to a week. 

When should you go see your doctor?

You probably don't need to go see your doctor, Hilden says.

"Our main advice is to not see your doctor. If you think you have the flu and you're an otherwise relatively healthy person, you should just stay home."

"There's not much we can do for you in the clinic," he adds.

Hilden's advice: Tylenol, lots of fluids and chicken soup. 

However, if you're the parent of a small child, call your pediatrician "because the flu is very serious for small childen," he added. 

Flu season just won't go away

Hilden says the flu season isn't on the decline like it normally is at the end of January, and there's still a widespread number of cases. 

"We're optimistic that in the next couple of weeks things might get better, but that's a hard prediction to make."

Not too late for a flu shot

You can still get the flu shot to help protect yourself, although there's no guarantee that it'll work. 

Other tips for avoiding the flu:

  • Wash your hands a lot
  • Don't sneeze or cough on your hand
  • Cough/sneeze into your elbow

"You get it (the flu) from other people. You are contagious for about a day before you even have symptoms," says Hilden. "You continue to be contagious for about week after your symptoms are gone."

Hilden says you probably have to be within an arm's distance of someone infected to get it from them via a cough, sneeze, or even talking. 

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