Every year, millions of people get the flu, and thousands die from it. But you can take steps to keep you and your family healthy. Getting a flu vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent the flu’s spread.
The flu is a common and contagious illness caused by influenza viruses. It’s a respiratory disease affecting the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. And this year, as we’re battling COVID-19, avoiding the flu can help you avoid additional health complications.
Due to COVID-19, flu shots are in high demand. Get yours as soon as possible to avoid any possible supply shortages. The flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19. But keeping yourself healthy and protecting against the flu is more important than ever.
Call your provider today to schedule your flu shot. Also, check with your local retailers and pharmacies — many also provide flu shots.
Flu signs and symptoms
Flu symptoms usually start one to four days after you are exposed. If you have the flu, you may notice:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Runny nose
- Vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children
You don’t have to have all these symptoms to have the flu. You may have just one or two symptoms.
Complications of the flu
The flu is more than an inconvenience — it’s a serious health concern. If you already have conditions such as asthma or heart disease, the flu can make them worse.
And the flu can cause:
- Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
- Swelling of the brain (encephalitis)
- Respiratory failure, when your blood has too much carbon dioxide or too little oxygen
- Kidney failure
- Sepsis, a life-threatening immune response
How long is the flu contagious?
You can catch and spread the flu up to one day before symptoms appear. It continues to be contagious for up to seven days after you get sick. Children and people who have weakened immune systems may spread it for even longer.
Avoid spreading the flu by staying home until your symptoms have been gone for at least 24 hours.
Do I need a flu shot?
Everyone ages 6 months and older should get a flu shot every year, with only a few rare exceptions. Each year, the flu shot is designed to match that year’s flu strain.
Even if this year’s shot isn’t a perfect match, the flu shot is important because:
- You can get back to your life sooner: If you catch the flu after getting the flu shot, your symptoms may be less severe and will not last as long.
- You’re less likely to be hospitalized from the flu: People who get the flu shot reduce their chances of hospitalization or serious flu complications.
- Your loved ones will thank you: When you are vaccinated, you’re less likely to catch the flu and spread it to others.
- The flu and COVID-19 are a bad combination: Catching both the flu and COVID-19 could be serious and life-threatening.
- It could protect hospitals from being overwhelmed: Hospitals are already busy caring for COVID-19 patients. Having a large number of flu patients as well might strain their resources.
Now is the time to get your flu shot. It takes about two weeks for your body to develop a full immune response and protect you. The flu shot is a quick and easy way to protect your health and your family’s health.
Do I have a cold, the flu or COVID-19?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold, the flu and COVID-19. These illnesses differ in a few ways:
- Speed of symptoms: The flu hits you hard and all at once. A cold comes on slowly. The coronavirus may start gradually and can quickly turn serious.
- A fever with a cold is uncommon: If you have a fever, you likely have the flu or COVID-19.
- Runny nose and sneezing usually means a cold: Most of the time, a runny nose and sneezing is a sign of a cold and not the flu or COVID-19.
- Shortness of breath is a red flag: While a cold and the flu can cause coughing and some chest discomfort, they usually don’t cause breathing problems. If you feel short of breath, you could have COVID-19.
If you have any flu-like symptoms, call your provider. They can guide you through the next steps.
Self-care for the flu
If you get the flu, these measures can help you recover and avoid spreading it to others:
- Take care of yourself: Stay home and rest. Drink plenty of fluids. Medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) can help with pain and fever. And if your doctor prescribed an antiviral medication, take it as directed.
- Practice good hygiene: Cough and sneeze into tissues and throw them away immediately. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing or using the restroom. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
- Keep others healthy: Avoid contact with others as much as possible. Don’t go out until you’re fever-free for 24 hours without medication. If you must go out, wear a mask. And if you’re stuck without a tissue, cough and sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
- Call your doctor: Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re worried about your symptoms or if you’re in a high-risk group.