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Healthwatch 16: Flu fight continues

It's February -- not quite spring, yet and it seems as though everyone is sick, or knows someone who is.

SHAMOKIN DAM, Pa. — At Geisinger Careworks in Shamokin Dam, nurse Melanie Reich, LPN, is seeing 15 to 30 people per day.

"We see the average cough, cold, flu symptoms, fevers," said Reich. "Small wounds, lacerations, if you think you broke something, we can send you to x-ray, we can splint things here."

Reich says they're always here to help patients. But before stopping at a clinic, she'd like to see people try treating their symptoms at home first, and possibly get in to see their family doctor if they can.

"I wish people would utilize their pharmacy, and say, 'I have a cough. What can I take for my cough?'" said Reich.

From her perspective, the only exception to the wait-and-see method would be suspected flu, since time is critical when it comes to prescribing an antiviral. And Reich notes there isn't a telltale sign that it's the flu or not.

"Some people have a high fever. Sometimes people have major body aches. Sometimes people are sitting here having chills so bad they can't keep warm, and we think it's definitely the flu. Then their flu test comes back negative because there's a lot of viral things going around," Reich said.

"I think it's a challenge as a person in the public, to know exactly where to go, and when to go there," said Dr. Mark Olaf, an emergency physician at Geisinger Medical Center near Danville.

Olaf knows there is confusion out there. He says consider heading to the ER if your symptoms seem like something more than your family doctor or a clinic could handle.

Examples might be chest pains, uncontrolled bleeding, a suspected stroke, trouble breathing, or a severe injury.

The ER for the flu? It depends.

"For the average patient, a healthy adult without any complicating medical factors, flu can often be taken care of at home. Take a Tylenol or Advil to support your symptoms at home. But if they're getting worse after five to seven days, that's a sign you're maybe developing a complication."

Medical officials don't want to discourage people from seeking help if they need it. They say it's an effort to get people the right care at the right place.