Lynchburg, VA- The flu has hit harder and faster this year, sending hospitals and urgent care centers into a frenzy. Seasonal influenza cases have doubled compared with this time last year. To combat the rising number of cases, hospitals are now urging patients to wear protective masks.
In Virginia the flu is considered widespread--or extremely active. Doctors say wearing masks is a simple way to prevent further spreading the virus. So if you think you have the flu, take the necessary precautions.
"We have signs posted with coughing and sneezing etiquette so if you have to cough or sneeze we'd like you to cough or sneeze into a tissue or handkerchief and then wash your hands thoroughly," said Dr. Christopher von Elten, with Blue Ridge Immediate Care.
Dr. von Elten says those are just some of the ways to prevent a waiting room from becoming an influenza breeding ground.
"Being that the waiting rooms are fairly small places and you'll be potentially seated next to someone who has the flu, it's probably a good idea when you come in to ask for a mask if you have flu-like symptoms," said Dr. von Elten.
There are many people in ER's and waiting rooms without the flu, and doctors want to keep it that way. And though it's not foolproof, Dr. von Elten says a mask, is the easiest way to prevent spreading the virus.
"It's contained in small respiratory droplets so when you cough or sneeze, those go out into the atmosphere and can land on surfaces close by you," he said.
So if you're coughing and sneezing, but you're wearing a mask, Dr. von Elten says, "If you have flu-like symptoms and you're wearing a mask in the waiting room it will probably reduce the likelihood that you would spread that to someone else in the waiting room I would say."
But if you're still worried about getting the flu, you can always still get the vaccine.
"Even though there's widespread flu activity, if you've not received a flu shot it is not too late to get a flu shot, and I certainly recommend that you get one," said Dr. von Elten.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, muscle aches and respiratory problems like a sore throat or runny nose. If you think you have the flu, get treated early. And as Dr. von Elten suggests, when you visit the doctor, be sure to ask for a mask.