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Diagnosing & Treating Influenza (Flu)


The flu (influenza) is a viral infection of the respiratory tract, including the lungs, throat, and nose. It can be mild or severe with potentially life-threatening complications. 

At Dignity Health, our trusted doctors and nurses are ready to triage all types of emergencies and trained to provide a full range of quick and efficient care. If you need to go to the ER for flu in the Bay Area, visit one of our hospitals. Use our Online Waiting Room to select your estimated arrival time. 

What Causes the Flu?

The flu is caused by a highly contagious virus that is spread when infected people talk, sneeze, or cough. The virus can spread from an infected person to a healthy person up to six feet away. People are infectious about one day before symptoms appear. This means you can pass the flu to others before you know you are sick.

You can also catch the flu if you touch contaminated objects, such as a door handle, and then touch your mouth or nose. 

The most effective way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. You should also take care to wash your hands regularly and avoid sick people, if possible.

Common Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to start suddenly, unlike a cold. Common symptoms include:

  • Body aches 
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose  

If any of these symptoms become severe, see your doctor. 

Complications of the flu can be serious and even life threatening, and include bronchitis, sinus infections, and pneumonia. Flu can make some medical conditions worse.

People at highest risk for developing flu-related complications include:

  • Adults 65 and older
  • Children under five, but especially those under age two 
  • People who are morbidly obese
  • People with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease
  • Pregnant women
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

Flu Treatment at Dignity Health in the Bay Area

Our Dignity Health doctors treat your flu symptoms while trying to prevent the spread of flu to others. Often, the flu is mild and only requires fluids, over-the-counter medicines, and rest for recovery. 

If you concerned about your symptoms or are in a high-risk group, see a doctor as soon as possible. You may need an antiviral medicine to fight the flu and prevent complications. These medicines work best when taken within 48 hours of becoming sick. 

Dignity Health provides emergency care for the flu in the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.