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The sniffling you’re used to. The sneezing you can handle. But suddenly you’re running a high fever, and no matter how much ibuprofen you gobble, it just won’t seem to go away. You’re no hypochondriac, but still — it’s alarming. Were you transported in your sleep to some place where exceptionally infectious viruses abound? Are you about to become a statistic? What should you do?

There are thousands of viruses floating around in the world, and most won’t do more than put you out of work for a few days. But some can become very serious, so don’t try to tough it out. If you’ve caught a bug and need some help, you have some options.

  • If your symptoms are less serious, you could head to urgent care for some quick relief.
  • If they’re severe, however, then to the ER with you.

So how do you tell the difference? The answer depends on the symptoms and the virus.

If you’re an adult with a fever over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, go to the ER. If your fever is lower, take a look at this list of common culprits and their symptoms to help you decide what to do.

Astrovirus. If you’ve got tummy trouble along with that fever, this little guy may be the problem. Astrovirus causes gastroenteritis, stomach and intestinal inflammation that lead to nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. This bug is no fun, but it’s generally not serious. If you can stand up for long enough, head to your local urgent care to get treatment for your fever and likely dehydration. If you can’t, it might be time to have someone take you to the ER, because you may be severely dehydrated or experiencing a more severe illness.

Encephalitis. Encephalitis isn’t actually a virus; it’s a condition that can be caused by many different viruses, and involves inflammation of the brain. You may just feel the basic yucks — headache, runny nose, muscle aches, sore throat, fever, you name it. If the condition isn’t urgent, these will go away on their own. But severe encephalitis is life threatening. If you experience confusion, agitation, hallucinations, double vision, muscle weakness, strange sensations, or loss of consciousness, head to the ER immediately.

Epstein-Barr virus. You probably know the most severe form of this one — mononucleosis, or mono. It’s incredibly common; almost 95% of adults in the country have contracted this virus, though they might not have known it. Epstein-Barr isn’t always symptomatic, but when it is, the primary problem is fatigue that just won’t quit. Sufferers may also experience a very sore throat and swollen lymph nodes, and often a high fever as well. If you’re feeling these symptoms, an urgent care center can help you determine your diagnosis.

Influenza. You guessed it — influenza just means the flu. There are three different major strains of influenza virus. Depending on which strain you have, you may experience a cough, headache, sore throat, runny nose, nausea, or muscle aches. You’ll almost always have a high fever. The flu will go away on its own, though your local urgent care can provide treatment to  ease some of the symptoms. If, however, your flu symptoms become crippling (you can’t stand up, leave the bathroom, swallow, eat, or breathe clearly for an extended period of time) or if your fever is very high, go to the ER. Influenza may be common, but it can be dangerous if you’re very young, elderly, or already have a compromised immune system.

Varicella zoster. You may not recognize the name, but you’d recognize the signs. If you start to see red, itchy spots on your skin, you may have … you guessed it … chickenpox. Thankfully, there’s now a vaccine for this common childhood disease, so your kids may not have to experience it. Watch out, though — in adults, this virus can cause herpes zoster, also known as shingles, which is considerably more painful than the childhood version. If you have a high fever and itchy skin, head to urgent care so they can determine your next course of action.

You shouldn’t sit at home and suffer. If you’re experiencing viral symptoms, you can get fast treatment at FastMed. But always use your best judgment; if you have a sneaking suspicion that you should be at the emergency room, chances are you probably should.

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