By Deena Centofanti
Fox 2 News
ROYAL OAK, Mich. (WJBK) -- Phones are ringing and questions being answered at Beaumont Health System's flu hotline center. Nurses are taking calls all about the flu, which is hitting Michigan hard and early this year.
You can reach the Beaumont Flu Hotline by calling 888-375-4161. The service is free to use and available 24 hours a day.
The goal is to help people understand when they need to come to the hospital and when they need to stay home.
"People are coming in because they're basically panicking. They have flu symptoms, and they don't know that they should probably just stay home, treat it with ibuprofen or Tylenol, and just treat the symptoms," said nurse practitioner Holly Bair.
We have checked with several hospitals and their emergency rooms are packed with patients worried about the influenza. So when do you need to see a doctor?
"Anybody having severe shortness of breath, any mental status changes, the high temperature that they just can't seem to break for days, they really need to be seen by their physician," said nurse Julie Naismith.
And don't be fooled by the so-called "stomach flu". That's a bug that causes upset stomach and diarrhea. It's a gastrointestinal illness. That's not influenza. The flu is a respiratory virus that is highly contagious and affects your nose, throat and lungs. It can kill on average 20,000 people a year.
Doctors are saying if you haven't had the vaccine, now is the time.
"The vaccine is safe. It's been around for decades and very rare complications. When [there] are complications, very mild," said Dr. Steve Saginaw.
Remember, flu season peaks in February, so doctors are saying it is not too late to get the flu shot, and even if you get the flu shot, which is a dead virus, and then you get the flu, doctors tell me it will be a less severe case of the flu.