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Woman talking to a doctor from her laptop during flu season. An illustrated phone portraying a text chat with a virtual doctor is in the corner.

January 16, 2023 • read

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How to talk to a doctor online, 24/7 for flu symptoms

It’s coming: the flu. Every year, like clockwork, Canadians start an epic battle with germs. Coughs, runny noses, and sneezing — they’re inevitable.

But this year brings additional complications. Doctor shortages are affecting huge swaths of the country, hospitals are under pressure, and ER waiting times have skyrocketed.

This has left many Canadians crowding into germy waiting areas at their local walk-in clinic. Others are spending hours in the ER for minor issues like prescription renewals. Add in COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), hospital staff shortages, and flu season, and higher waiting times look like they’re here to stay.

But, there’s another way — if you get sick this season, Maple can help. Maple is a telehealth platform that connects you with Canadian-licensed doctors and specialists from your phone, tablet, or computer.

Maple gives you access to care from wherever you choose, helping you skip the walk-in clinic and bypass the ER for non-urgent issues. And, talking to a doctor online means you can address your issues in a timely manner. No need to wait for your doctor’s office to reopen after the holidays to get care.

Flu season stats

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory virus, and according to Infection Prevention and Control Canada (IPAC), there are more than a billion cases of the flu worldwide every year. Because the virus mutates frequently, some strains cause more severe illness or spread more easily in certain years than in others.

This year, the viral load in the population is high. For example, the week of December 4 to 9 saw more than 9,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu. And that’s near the beginning of flu season, whose peak traditionally lands between December and February.

The flu might be common, but that doesn’t make it harmless. Besides being a terrible illness to experience, the flu can cause a variety of complications. These include pneumonia, sinus and ear infections, and ongoing fatigue. Children can face additional issues like croup, or more rarely, Reye’s syndrome.

Serious and lasting effects can also involve inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) and its surrounding sac (pericarditis), along with muscle inflammation (myositis). And that’s not all — additional cardiac issues like heart attacks and heart failure are also possible.

Moreover, serious flu complications can result in central nervous system issues like seizures, brain damage, inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, multisystem organ failure, and Guillain-Barré syndrome — and that’s only part of the list.

Clearly, the flu has the potential to cause severe complications, which is why influenza and pneumonia rank in Canada’s top ten causes of death.

Who’s most at risk for the flu?

Anyone can get the flu. An infected person coughing, sneezing, or talking in your direction can infect you with tiny droplets impregnated with the virus. What’s more, surfaces contaminated with the flu virus are also a source of infection. Touching one of these surfaces and then your eyes, nose, or mouth can spread the virus.

While anyone can get the virus, certain groups are at a higher risk for flu complications. This includes seniors over 65, children under five, and anyone with a compromised immune system or lung issues. For example, if you have a preexisting condition like COPD or asthma, your risk of flu complications and exacerbation of your preexisting medical condition is higher.

Pregnant women should be especially aware of the risks of flu during pregnancy. Pregnancy temporarily affects your immune system, making it harder to fight off respiratory illnesses. This makes pregnant women more likely to experience complications from the flu and puts them at higher risk of being hospitalized for the virus.

Can an online doctor help with the flu?

Provider shortages and a slew of recent retirements have made it harder than ever to find a family doctor. This means that long wait times for medical appointments have become the norm.

Unfortunately, this has caused some to scrap their doctor visits altogether and, while not recommended, it’s understandable. Sitting in a walk-in clinic or your doctor’s waiting room while congested, feverish, and in a general state of malaise isn’t the most comfortable activity.

Seeing an online doctor for the flu helps you avoid these issues. Moreover, online doctor appointments are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which means you can access care whenever you need it. And, if you need a prescription, you can have it sent to the pharmacy of your choice or delivered to your home — for free.

What do doctors prescribe for the flu?

If you’re wondering when to see a doctor for the flu, the short answer is as soon as you think you have it. Virtual medical appointments are perfectly suited for the flu, which doctors can usually diagnose online by asking about symptoms.

Although the flu can present differently in each person, classic flu symptoms usually look like:

  • A fever above 37.8°C
  • Fatigue
  • Headache and muscle aches
  • Cough and sore throat (sometimes)

If you’re struggling with more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, signs of severe dehydration, confusion, or if you can’t stop vomiting, however, it’s a medical emergency and you should seek help immediately.

How do I prepare for my online appointment?

Before your appointment, make sure you have access to a quiet place. You’ll be discussing your health which means that privacy is an important consideration. Once that’s figured out, the rest is easy. Simply log into Maple from your computer or mobile device, select your symptoms, and get matched with a doctor.

What will my online appointment be like?

Once an online doctor has a chance to review your concern and determines that they can help you, your appointment will begin right away. You’ll have the option of speaking to the provider by text, audio, or video. And, if you have specific areas of concern, your provider can examine them visually, or you can send a photo through Maple.

Just as they would during an in-person consultation, your provider will ask you for more details about your symptoms, such as when they began and how sudden their onset was. These details, together with your symptoms and history, help your provider make a diagnosis. They can also order additional testing, refer you to a specialist, or prescribe medication if necessary.

If you’re dealing with the flu, for example, and you’re within the first 48 hours of symptoms, your provider can order an antiviral prescription to the pharmacy of your choice or for delivery to your home. And that’s it! Your appointment is over, and your prescription is in transit, without you ever having to leave your nice, warm bed.

When’s the best time to get my flu shot?

Ideally, you should get your flu shot before the influenza virus begins circulating in your community. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, however, don’t despair — there’s still time. Flu season tends to peak between December and February, but the virus can circulate until May.

The flu vaccine is recalibrated each year to protect you from whatever variants are currently circulating. Even if it doesn’t match the strain you get exactly, being vaccinated will still reduce your chances of becoming seriously ill or experiencing complications.

That means that everyone over the age of six months should get their flu vaccine, with very few exceptions. If you have anaphylactic allergies to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, or if you’ve had an anaphylactic response to a previous dose, you shouldn’t get it. Otherwise, rolling up your sleeve for an annual shot is a good idea.

Tips to fight the flu

It’s hard to predict exactly how flu season will shake out, when it’ll start, and how long it’ll last. But no matter how the virus mutates, the underlying principles of how to fight it stay the same. These include:

1. Getting a flu shot

Get your flu shot every year, as early as you can in the season. It takes at least two weeks to protect you from the time of injection, so the longer you go without it, the higher your risk of exposure.

2. Practicing good hygiene

Soap and water are some of your best tools for warding off the influenza virus, so wash your hands frequently. As well, if you do have to share space with potentially sick people — here’s looking at you daily transit riders — consider wearing a mask to protect your nose and mouth from virus-laden droplets. Few things are worse than having a stranger sneeze or cough on you.

3. Stopping the spread of germs

Keep your germs to yourself. Cough into your elbow, wash your hands, and disinfect surfaces regularly — the flu virus can live on surfaces for up to two days. Most importantly, stay home if you’re sick.

Rest, hydrate, and get treated

If you do get sick, take care of yourself. Most cases of the flu can be treated at home with rest and fluids. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can help you manage any fever or aches and pains.

Having the flu is terrible, and leaving the house for a doctor’s appointment is the last thing you want to do when you’re sick. But, since prescription antivirals can shorten your illness and lessen your symptoms, seeing a doctor within the first 48 hours is crucial.

Safeguard your health — and your sanity — this winter by prioritizing accessible, convenient, and timely medical help that doesn’t come with the hassle of the clinic. See a doctor online this flu season and skip the wait.

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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