Oct 20, 2015

Interviewer: Can you test for the flu and should you ask for it when you go visit your physician if you think you have the flu? We'll examine that next on The Scope.

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Interviewer: So wouldn't it just be easier if you could get a test for the flu to know if you have it or not? Well, we're going to find out right now. Dr. Tom Miller is internal medicine at the University of Utah Healthcare. First of all, is there a test for the flu?

Dr. Miller: There are tests for the flu, yes.

Scott: Okay, I want one.

Dr. Miller: You don't get one.

Interviewer: Why don't I want one or get one?

Dr. Miller: You don't need one. First you don't have flu symptoms, and if you do have flu symptoms and you're not severely ill, we would just treat you empirically. Meaning, if you have symptoms, you have a high fever that starts suddenly, shakes, chills, cough, you basically would have the flu until proven otherwise during the middle of the flu season.

Interviewer: So you're saying that the flu for a physician is a pretty obvious thing to diagnose. You don't need a test.

Dr. Miller: Should be, but everybody loves a test Scott.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Miller: Everybody loves the test.

Interviewer: They like to know for sure.

Dr. Miller: So we've talked before on the program about being treated for the flu. So there is a treatment, an antiviral that you can give, but you should give it within the first 48 hours. So if one obtains a test to prove whether you have the flu or not it might be longer than 48 hours before you get the test results back, while in the meantime you're feeling miserable.

Interviewer: Oh. Yeah, so I come into the doctor and they're like, "I'll give you the flu test, if you want it," and then by then it's too late.

Dr. Miller: The decision is made based on a clinical presentation, so looks like the flu, smells like the flu, it's probably the flu. And we go ahead and treat it. We start the treatment.

Interviewer: What do I do if I'm convinced I have the flu, and you're not?

Dr. Miller: I guess we have a problem.

Interviewer: Do you get that? Do you get people that you say, "Oh I'm sorry you don't have the flu."

Dr. Miller: No, I generally don't. I mean it's pretty clear when people have the flu. They feel awful. Now they might have a cold, just a common cold. And I can usually explain to them that, "No, you don't have a high fever. It didn't start suddenly. I think this is a cold, which is due to a virus, but it's not the influenza virus." And basically when they are without a fever, that's something that they just get over after several days, and we really don't have effective treatment for that anyway.

Interviewer: That's the tell-tale sign, is you might feel completely miserable, but if you don't have a high fever above 101 then you likely don't have the flu.

Dr. Miller: Then if you have shaking, chills and you just feel awful and two hours ago you didn't feel bad, that's pretty much flu. Those are flu-like symptoms, and could be something else. The main thing is you want to get started on the therapy that could actually reduce the severity of the symptoms and turn the thing around, and cut it back by a day or so.

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