Flu-like symptoms are low in Michigan. But doctors say you should still take it seriously

Does it feel like so many people are getting sick? When you break down the numbers for the flu, this is how it looks. Nationwide during the final week of 2019, almost 7 percent of patients reported an influenza-like illness. Here in Michigan, that number is 3 percent. 

That's considered low at this point, but doctors say as these percentages are expected to rise and that we need to take the flu seriously. 

If you've never experienced influenza firsthand, it can be easy to shrug off the warning signs.

But according to Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Alan Taege, the flu is a severe illness and needs to be taken seriously.

"For those who have never had influenza, it's difficult to understand how much worse it is than a typical cold. Influenza makes one much more ill - higher fevers, profound body aches, much, much, more fatigue, and consequently, is a much more severe disease," he says.

Dr. Taege says most people will get through a cold in a week's time, with minor discomfort. The flu, however, can take you out of commission for much longer. 

Key signs of the flu include fever, aches, chills, tiredness and a sudden onset of those symptoms. 

Dr. Taege says one of the most dangerous complications from the flu is bacterial pneumonia. Pneumonia is a lung infection where the airways become inflamed and air sacs in the lungs become filled with fluids. It can be deadly.

Those who are most at risk of developing pneumonia include children under 2, people with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and adults over the age of 65.

Dr. Taege says if you get the flu, you need to watch out for a 'two-cycle illness' - where you initially start to feel better but then become worse days later.

"The typical time course, if you will, from contracting true influenza to where people will get a secondary pneumonia is often a several day span, where, yes, indeed you go, 'Ah, I'm starting to get over this; I don't ache so much, my temperature's coming down, I'm starting to feel better,' - and then suddenly you start coughing more and the fever goes back up."

If you get the flu the best thing to do is stay home, get plenty of rest, drink fluids and take over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve symptoms. 

If you recognize symptoms early on, you may be able to get prescription anti-viral medications from your doctor that can lessen the duration of the flu. 

It's also still not too late to get the flu shot.