It’s that time of year again. Re-familiarize yourself with what the flu is, how it spreads and the best prevention techniques.

News, Your Health | one month ago

What You Need to Know this Flu Season

It’s that time of year again. Re-familiarize yourself with what the flu is, how it spreads and the best prevention techniques. 

As temperatures start to cool, we know flu season is just around the corner. In fact, peak flu season is typically from October through early May. While it’s still too early to predict which influenza strain will be active this year, experts advise getting your flu vaccinations sooner rather than later, before flu symptoms spread in your community.

What is the flu?

The flu is a common respiratory illness caused by an influenza virus. It is highly contagious and normally spreads through coughs and sneezes of an infected person.

People most at risk for flu-related complications are children younger than 5, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and those with longstanding diseases that reduce immune system function.

How to prevent the flu

Experts agree that the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year. Catherine Passaretti, MD, medical director of infection prevention at Carolinas HealthCare System, advises people to not wait to get the flu shot, as it takes a few weeks before the vaccination starts to take effect.

She also warns people that it’s still possible to get the flu even if they get the vaccine.

“In a good season, the vaccine is about 60 percent effective because there are different strains of the virus that circulate every flu season,” she says.

Other tips to prevent getting sick: Cover your sneeze or cough and frequently wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel. Check out 14 tips proven to help prevent the flu.

If you get sick with a fever and flu-like symptoms, stay home – and encourage others with a mild illness to stay home, too. If your symptoms become severe, you should see your doctor.  

Don’t confuse the flu for a cold

Dr. Passaretti says confusing the flu with a cold can be easy given that they are both respiratory illnesses. “Symptoms may overlap, but the flu is more severe,” she says. “People typically have more muscle aches and pains with the flu.”

The most common flu symptoms are:

  • High fever/chills
  • Muscle pains
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue

Colds are usually milder and generally do not result in serious health problems that can be associated with the flu, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations. In rare cases, the flu can be life-threatening.

Antibiotics typically won’t cure flu symptoms

A common mistake is taking antibiotics for the flu, which is a virus. Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria and can only treat sicknesses caused by bacteria – so they have no effect on the flu. In fact, taking antibiotics for the flu can make you sicker or make your sickness last longer.

“Since most common-cold symptoms are caused by viruses, you don’t need to treat them with antibiotics. You can help your body’s immune system do its job with rest and lots of liquids,” says Lisa Davidson, MD, medical director of Carolinas HealthCare System’s Antimicrobial Support Network. “If you need symptom relief, your doctor can provide recommendations for over-the-counter medications.”

Learn more about cold and flu symptoms and antibiotics.