Our flu experts explain how you can treat the flu, the best ways to prevent flu, and the importance of getting your flu shot this season.
Happening Now: For the latest information on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus disease page
The flu is one of the most common viruses that spreads each winter. While there are many preventative methods you can use to avoid influenza – such as getting your flu shot – the flu remains a powerful virus that impacts millions of people worldwide. With COVID-19 cases filling our hospital beds throughout the region, it's even more important now to protect yourself and those around you from the flu.
Our experienced physicians share everything you need to know about flu treatment and prevention.
Flu season ramps up during the fall and winter months—usually between early December and late March of the following year. Based on nearly 40 years of testing data, flu activity is known to spike most often in December, January, February, and March. The chart shows peak flu activity by month for the periods since the 1982-1983 flu season, with the peak month determined as the month with the highest percentage of positive tests.
The 2021-2022 flu season will be no different, according to Dr. Christine Cameron, Primary Care Physician at Rochester Regional Health.
When your body is fighting off an infection, you will often experience rapid exhaustion and weakness. This is because your body releases chemicals to help fight the virus that cause fatigue. Experiencing both mental and physical fatigue is a common early sign that you may have the flu. When fatigued, do as little physical work as possible, and try to rest as much as you can.
Combined with other early flu symptoms, body aches and chills are a strong indicator that the flu is either fast approaching or already in your system. Similar to fatigue, your body is using more of its resources to fight the virus, and aches and pains are the body’s response. Chills and cold spells can signal a fever and a rising body temperature. Remember to avoid heavy garments and blankets when you have the chills. And always talk to a doctor about the best medication to help regulate your body temperature.
A sore throat is an early sign of the flu, but it's also an early symptom of strep throat, the common cold, or even tonsillitis. When your throat starts to feel raw and it hurts to swallow, it’s usually a sign that your body is responding to one of those viruses. Contact your doctor and schedule a flu test to receive confirmation of the flu or another infection.
When the flu virus has entered your body, it begins to irritate the nerve endings in your airways. Coughing is a reflexive response from your body to protect your lungs from the virus during the first signs of flu. “Over-the-counter medication can relieve those early flu symptoms like coughing," says Dr. Abdullah Firoze, Primary Care Physician at Rochester Regional Health. "Remember to always cover your mouth with your arm or tissue to reduce the risk of spreading the flu.
“Tamiflu is one option for alleviating flu symptoms,” says Dr. Cameron. The antiviral drug is FDA-approved for people two weeks of age and older and is available in capsule and liquid form. Tamiflu attacks the flu virus in your body, prevents it from multiplying, and reduces flu symptoms. However, Tamiflu is only effective for patients who have tested positive for the flu. Antihistamines and decongestants can also help reduce nasal swelling and itchy, watery eyes. For more information on treating flu with antiviral drugs, check out the CDC Fact Sheet. *Talk to your primary care provider before using medication.
Drinking liquids will help replenish your body when you have the flu. When your body fights an infection like influenza, your temperature increases, and you become dehydrated. Water is the best thing for you to drink, but if you have lost your appetite, then liquid calories will help replenish energy. Soup, tea with honey or lemon, and diet ginger ale or orange juice with low sugar are good options.
“If you have a common cold, sinus infection, or any flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, nasal congestion, or cough, you should stay home,” said Infection Preventionist Melissa Bronstein. The CDC also recommends anyone with a fever and respiratory symptoms should stay home from work until 24 hours after their fever subsides. Get as much rest as you can and do as little physical eversion as possible, so no exercise or rigorous chores.
The flu vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the influenza virus and drastically decreases your chances of catching the virus. CDC studies show that the flu shot reduces the risk of illness from the flu by between 40 to 60 percent among the overall population.
Since your hands are involved in most of your day-to-day activities, if you do catch the virus, there’s a chance your hands are involved. Thorough and frequent hand-washing can be effective in preventing influenza and many other common infections.
Take extra precaution by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren't available.
Droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby or possibly get inhaled into your lungs. To avoid spreading or catching the flu, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. If you get sneezed or coughed on, immediately treat the area with soap and water to increase your chance of preventing the flu.
It’s hard to avoid crowds and attend fun winter events, so this may be challenging. But influenza often spreads when people congregate—at child-care centers, schools, office buildings, and on public transportation.
Avoid crowds during peak flu season to reduce your chances of infection. And if you're sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides so that you lessen your chance of infecting others.
It takes about two weeks after you get the flu vaccine for antibodies to develop in the body. The antibodies from the flu shot protect against viruses that are in the vaccine.
The seasonal flu vaccine aims to protect against the influenza virus that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.
According to the CDC, current vaccinations tend to work better against influenza B and influenza A (H1N1) viruses and offer lower protection against influenza A (H3N2) viruses.
Yes. Flu vaccines are designed to protect from the seasonal flu and are made under strict safety, supervision and production measures. Different types of vaccines are licensed for different ages, and each person should get one that is appropriate for their age and lifestyle preference.
Doctors recommend an annual flu vaccine for everyone six months and older. Children under the age of 9 who are getting their vaccine for the first time will receive two doses.
This page reflects the most up-to-date data about the 2021-2022 flu season. Previous flu season data is also available for comparison.
As we head into the colder months this season, there are steps and behaviors we can take to reduce our risk of getting sick.
Not everyone will experience the same flu symptoms, says Dr. Firoze, but identifying them early can lead to a more comfortable recovery.