Emergency Department or Urgent Center: Which Is Better for the Flu?

It's flu season in New York. Go to an urgent care center for help.

Got chills? A fever? Maybe a sore throat? You’re not alone. New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, MD, has declared that flu season is officially here, with nearly 40 counties and all five boroughs reporting cases of the virus.

If you’re experiencing mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, heading to an urgent care center instead of an emergency department (ED) may be your best bet, said Danielle DeGaetano, DO, a family medicine doctor practicing at a Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care center in Commack, NY.

“If you feel like you have a fever and you’re kind of under the weather, it’s more appropriate to go to an urgent care center first so we can determine if you can be treated in the office or if you need to go to the ED,” Dr. DeGaetano said. “The ED is really meant for more life-threatening conditions that take up more resources.”

For flu-like symptoms, the ED would be the right choice for those in high-risk categories, such as the very young or very old, pregnant women or those who are experiencing emergency medical conditions such as respiratory difficulty and chest pains.

Treatment for the flu usually involves rest, drinking plenty of fluids, taking Tylenol or Motrin for muscle aches and pains, and staying out of work or school for a few days. Your doctor may also prescribe Tamiflu to help reduce the symptoms.

“If you do come down with the virus, it’s still not too late to get vaccinated,” Dr. DeGaetano said. “The flu shot might be protecting you against a different strain of the virus that you didn’t have. There are multiple strains of flu. There is influenza A and influenza B and there are multiple strains of each.

“The flu shot is a best guess of what the flu strains are going to be for the coming year, so you’re not protected against all the strains of the influenza but you’re protected against the most prevalent ones that might come out that year,” she explained.

If you suspect the flu, be sure to visit an urgent care center to begin treatment as quickly as possible. Northwell Health has 16 GoHealth Urgent Care locations throughout Long Island, as well as five in Queens, six in Manhattan, three in Staten Island and three in Westchester.