Just when it seems the flu bug has passed you by, the unexpected sickness occurs in the form of fever, chills, runny nose, cough, body ache and sore throat. These are the symptoms that creep into our lives at the worst possible time.

“We’re seeing mostly cases of respiratory flu this season,” says Diana Gallegos, a nurse practitioner at Presbyterian Healthcare in Belen where business has picked up lately. Doctors treat 80 to 100 people every day in urgent care, according to Gallegos.

“It really hit us big in February. A lot of people don’t realize it’s still part of the flu season lasting from November to February,” she said.

“It’s amazing how people come in and how bad they look. The biggest complaint I hear is dehydration. People are just not taking in enough fluids on a regular basis.”

If you’re feeling fine one minute and horrible the next, Gallegos says, it’s probably a smart idea to visit the doctor.

The flu generally lasts five to seven days, the doctor says, but folks usually start to see a gradual improvement after the first 48 hours or so.

It’s important to be looked at by a doctor because it’s possible for the flu to lead to other infections, such as ear and sinus problems and bronchial infections. Pneumonia can also occur as a result of the flu.

Gallegos suggests to those with flu-like aches and pains that they take an over-the-counter medicine, such as Tylenol Cold and Flu, which has a decongestant and cough suppressant that help treat basic flu symptoms.

According to Gallegos, one of the biggest misconceptions about the flu is most people think it can be treated with antibiotics. The truth of the matter is the doctor can treat bacterial infections with an antibiotic but not viral infections like the flu. Most of the time, symptomatic treatment is the only way to get better, she says.

“People want the antibiotic right now. I tell them to rest, take plenty of fluids and get some Tylenol,” she said.

Many health care providers recommend using ibuprofen instead of aspirin to lower the fever.

Symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea and low-grade fever signify the stomach flu. The illness can form over a period of hours or it may start suddenly with stomach cramps.

Gallegos says the best thing to do is to rest the stomach and eat nothing. A little later, you can eat soft foods that are easy to digest.

A very important step in treating the flu is drinking lots of liquids, such as water, juice and drinks without caffeine. “Drink a sip of something every 10 minutes, not all at once. Make sure it’s continuous throughout the day.”

Prevention is the main focus, Gallegos stresses. “Make sure you cover your mouth when you cough. Don’t share utensils such as cups and forks. Good hand washing is extremely important. People don’t realize that. If you touch a door knob, you expose yourself to all the hands that touched it and their germs.”

As flu season begins to leave Valencia County, look out. Allergy season is here and March is a big month for people to seek treatment.

George Moya, who works at Walgreen’s pharmacy in Los Lunas, often talks to customers will flu-like symptoms who come into the store to buy over-the-counter remedies.

“People come in and ask for advice. We counsel people on a personal basis after finding out their symptoms. We’re here to help.”

Business has picked up since the new Walgreen’s opened last July, Moya says. “Overall, we see a large variety of customers. As the community grows, we’re getting busier. And we never close. We’re open 24 hours. It’s a challenge but an added convenience and service to the community.”

Moya says customers like knowing they can order their prescriptions over the Internet or touch-tone phone — they can even use the auto-refill service for prescription maintenance. Now that allergy season is in full swing, Moya knows the weather will bring more people to the store.

“Allergies are always a problem, but we’ve had a real dry winter and the wind is stirring up dust. A lot of people try to just bear with it, but there are alternatives. We’re here to help with all of their symptoms.”

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Jennifer Harmon