By Kelli Grant
Published: October 20, 2009, 6:02 PM
It's not just the virus that's acting differently depending on the patient. Doctors aren't testing everyone for the H1N1 flu virus and not everyone is being treated with antiviral medications. Which may have you wondering, why?
When you head to the doctor's office with flu-like symptoms and leave empty handed without a prescription, you might feel you haven't really been helped. But doctors say many patients can help themselves even more by staying home and not bothering to be tested.
Waiting rooms at doctor's clinics and emergency rooms are filling up fast. Many patients want an answer to why they feel so awful. To their surprise, they often don't get one.
"We're seeing huge numbers of patients presenting all across the region and it just doesn't make sense to try to test because we know it's there, it's widespread," Sanford Infectious Disease Dr. Wendell Hoffman said.
He says that means if you feel like you have the flu, it's a safe bet it's H1N1, which many can recover from without seeing their physician.
"Unless they're part of those designated groups that are at high risk for the complications of influenza, they also don't need to be treated," Hoffman said.
Hoffman says physicians are being told to test people who would need treatment. That includes young children, the elderly, anyone who has a chronic medical condition, pregnant women and children 18 and under who are on chronic aspirin therapy.
"Those are the classically defined groups who we would treat and definitely urge health care providers to treat with Tamiflu," Hoffman said.
Anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu are most effective with given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. But there's one thing you should remember.
"It's not necessarily a magic pill. The studies indicate that it really only shorten the illness by about 24 hours," Hoffman said.
But that could be crucial for some patients.
"If you limit the replication of the virus in somebody who has underlying risk factor, you may have actually saved their life," Hoffman said.
Hoffman says there's one more thing the public should know. TamiFlu isn't widely available. And because health officials aren't really sure where this virus is headed and because we're early on in the flu season, giving the medication to only those who need it is crucial.
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