Time for flu shots
As temperatures start to cool, 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 flu vaccinations sooner rather than later, before flu symptoms spread in the 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. Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health, advises people not wait to get the flu shot, as it takes a few weeks before the vaccination takes effect.
She also cautions that it’s still possible to get the flu even if you 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 said.
Other tips to prevent getting sick:
• Cover your sneeze or cough;
• Frequently wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel;
• Don’t take antibiotics for cold and flu symptoms;
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
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;
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.
“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,” said Dr. Lisa Davidson, medical director of Atrium Health’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 at AtriumHealth.org/Germs.