You're feeling feverish and tired and have a runny nose, sore throat, and cough. Could this be the flu? A handful of websites can help you find the answer from the comfort of home. The newest is AMAfluhelp.org, launched Thursday by the American Medical Association in partnership with Healthy Circles (which offers free personal health records) and Microsoft. Other options include online tools offered by the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The goal is to help you figure out whether you need to see a doctor.
We put each site to the test:
The Mayo Clinic's checklist, for adults and children 6 years old and up, can help evaluate flu symptoms and may be useful in deciding whether to attend school or work. Checking the boxes for fever of 100.4 or higher, blocked (stuffy) or runny nose, dry cough, sore throat, severe widespread muscle aches, and extreme fatigue or exhaustion with a duration of 48 hours or less produced the following results: "It's likely that you have the flu." If you're a person at high risk of complications because of a pre-existing chronic medical condition, the results say, call your doctor to discuss how to handle your illness. If you're not at high risk of complications, it's probably OK to skip the call to the doctor, but you should stay home and avoid contact with others to reduce the spread of the illness.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services's Flu.gov includes a self-evaluation assessment specifically for H1N1 flu. (The tools offered by the AMA and the Mayo Clinic focus more broadly on flu symptoms in general, regardless of strain.) The questions are intended for adults ages 18 and older. Plugging in that you feel feverish, have a cough or sore throat, and are having trouble breathing, feeling chest pain, and feeling confused produces the following result: "People who answer like you did might be very sick." The site advises that people feeling this way should call their doctor to determine if they need to be seen, or consider going to an urgent-care clinic or hospital emergency room.
AMAfluhelp.org offers separate quizzes for adults and children. Before taking the short quiz for adults, you get a warning that people who have had recent difficulty breathing, chest pain, or seizures should seek immediate medical care. Beyond that, answering that you are not confused or having trouble thinking clearly and do not have chronic medical conditions but do have a fever of 100.4 F or higher and a new cough or sore throat produces the following result: "Your symptoms suggest you may have the flu." Then, it asks whether you're having difficulty breathing right now or are vomiting. If you answer "no," the site says that you do not need urgent care but should call your doctor for medical advice. For those who choose to complete the free registration process, the AMA's site offers the ability to share your information with your family and your doctor.
The goal of online tools like this one, says Mary Anne McCaffree, a member of the AMA board of trustees and a pediatrician in Oklahoma City, is to help patients avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room or the doctor's office. Going to a "waiting room full of individuals who are sick is a bit of a risk for a person who may not be as sick to be exposed to others who have the flu," she says.