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What to do if you have the flu

First 48 hours are critical, says nurse practitioner

By Gwen Verchota, PhD, APRN-BC
December 21, 2017

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Cue the sniffles, cough and fever. Cold and flu season is here. And this year, it’s hitting harder and earlier than usual.

Since October, the number of flu cases has been increasing steadily in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number is expected to climb much more in the coming months.

As a nurse practitioner at, I diagnose and treat patients just like at an urgent care. But we do it all online without the need for video chat. And in the past few weeks, we’ve already seen an increase in visits for flu-like symptoms.

Medicines called antivirals can help reduce the length and severity of flu symptoms. But, they work best when started within 48 hours after symptoms start. That’s why it’s so important to seek care if you think you might have the flu.

Even if the #flupocalypse has begun, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. You can still take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting sick! Here are 4 common questions I’ve received, and some tips to stay healthy this season.

  1. Is the flu shot really only 10 percent effective for 2017?

    Consider this: On average, flu vaccine is estimated to cut the risk of flu by about 50 percent. There are a couple of flu strains circulating in the US right now making people sick that the vaccine doesn’t look like it is very well-matched for. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated. Some protection is better than no protection!

  2. Should I still get a flu shot?

    Yes! Even if you do get the flu, you’re not as likely to get as sick as you may have gotten without the vaccine. And getting your flu shot now means you will likely will be better protected if flu season continues on into early spring.

  3. Do I have a cold or the flu?

    Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen many patients thinking they might have a sinus infection or a bad cold. But many have actually had influenza.

    The first signs and symptoms of influenza – or the flu – can look and feel a lot like the common cold. A fever, headache or extreme tiredness usually point to the flu.

    If you do think you’re coming down with something, review this cold versus flu check list. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you figure out what, if any, treatment you might need.

  4. I think I have the flu. Should I go in?

    If you are sick with flu-like illness, it’s best to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. So if you think you have the flu, online care can be a great option for getting help before that 24-hour period is up. You don’t have to leave home to get a treatment plan (and prescriptions like Tamiflu if needed) if you use an online clinic like All you need is a computer, tablet or smartphone. A virtuwell nurse practitioner will review your symptoms and other basic medical information you provide about yourself (like allergies). Based on that, they'll make a diagnosis. They'll also create a treatment plan for you, and if that includes an antiviral medicine, they'll send the prescription to your pharmacy where you can pick it up.

    Want to try out online care? Start your virtuwell visit now.

During such a busy time of year, it’s important to make sure you are taking time to care for yourself. Get plenty of rest, drink fluids and eat well. And if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, there’s still time. You can visit any of these locations:

About Gwen Verchota, PhD, APRN-BC

Gwen Verchota is the Care Delivery Manager at HealthPartners’ online clinic, She's a leader in creating safe, effective online treatment plans. And she loves leading a team of nurse practitioners that’s passionate about providing convenient, personalized care. Outside of work, you’ll find Gwen golfing, downhill skiing and cheering on the Minnesota Wild with her husband and two kids. She can’t wait to get her kayak out on the lake at the cabin they’re building in Walker, Minn.

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