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How to Prevent
and Treat the Flu

Our flu doctors explain how you can prevent the flu, the best ways to treat flu, and when to get your flu shot this season. 

What to Expect this Flu Season

The flu is one of the most common viruses to spread each winter. While there are many preventative methods you can take to avoid influenza, like getting your flu shot, it remains a powerful virus that impacts millions of people. More than 37 million people suffered flu illnesses during the 2018/19 season.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to prevent the flu and stay healthy.

When is Flu Season?

Does the flu really have its own season? Yes, or at least, a combination of seasons. Flu spikes during the fall and winter months—usually between early December and late March each year.

The chart shows peak flu activity by month for the periods between 1982/83 and 2017/18, with the peak month determined as the month with the highest percentage of positive tests. In more than 35 years of testing, flu activity has spiked most often in December, January, February, and March.

This year, flu season is no different according to Dr. Christine Cameron, Primary Care Physician at Rochester Regional Health.

flu peak activity image from CDC
Peak Month of Flu Activity 1982-1983 through 2017-2018

Winter is peak flu season for several reasons. People spend more time indoors, often with windows and doors closed, which increases the likelihood of the virus spreading. Secondly, the virus can live longer indoors because the air is less humid inside than outside.

Early Flu Symptoms

Early symptoms can feel like they appear out of nowhere. It’s important to quickly identify symptoms early and know how to recognize them so you can ease the impact that influenza has on you.

number oneFatigue

Experiencing both mental and physical fatigue is a common early sign that you may have the flu. Your body is trying to fight off infection, causing rapid exhaustion and weakness.

 


number oneBody Aches and Chills

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 releases chemicals to help fight the virus, and aches and pains are the body’s response. Meanwhile, 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 of course, talk to a doctor about the best medication to help regulate your body temperature.

number oneSore Throat

A sore throat isn’t just an early symptom of the flu. It could signal strep throat, 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.

 

number oneCough

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.

While a sore throat can be associated with the flu, it can be caused by other viruses or bacteria. If it doesn’t improve, you should see a primary care provider for further evaluation.

- Abdullah Firoze, MD, Primary Care Physician, Rochester Medical Group

 

Flu vs. Cold: What’s the Difference?

Flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses that share many symptoms like stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, and fatigue. It’s not uncommon for you to mistake one for the other. But generally, influenza makes you feel worse than the common cold, and symptoms are often much more intense.
 flu vs. cold symptom chart
If you experience any of these symptoms, the best and most accurate way to tell if you have the flu or a cold is to get tested by your primary care physician.

Common Flu Myths

The importance of getting the flu vaccine has been proven, so why do some people avoid it? "Misinformation is one reason," said Dr. Marita Michelin, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital. "There are a lot of myths out there about the vaccine that simply aren't true."

MYTH 1 The Flu Shot Gives Me the Flu

The flu shot contains an inactivated virus that doesn’t transmit infection. People who get sick after getting vaccinated were going to get sick anyway. It does take a few weeks for the vaccination to protect you from influenza, so there is a window of time after receiving the flu shot where you can get sick. But since some people get sick during the window before the vaccination starts working, it’s assumed the shot causes the illness.

This is incorrect. The vaccine cannot cause the flu.

MYTH 2 I’m Healthy So I Don’t Need to be Vaccinated


More than 14 million people between 18 and 49 years old tested positive for the flu in 2017/18. While seniors, children, and people with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to getting the virus, everyone can get the flu—even those with no pre-existing conditions.

Rochester Regional Health recommends yearly vaccination against influenza for everyone older than six months old, including pregnant women.

MYTH 3 Chicken Soup Can Cure the Flu


What a wonderful world we would live in if this was true. While warm liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much-needed fluids, chicken soup has no specific qualities that can cure the flu—no matter what your grandmother tells you.

 

MYTH 4 Flu is Nothing More than a Bad Cold


The flu can cause severe cold symptoms, like
sore throat, cough, and runny nose, but the flu is certainly more severe than a cold and should not be taken lightly.

Once your doctor confirms you have caught influenza, you should not attend work or public places until the virus has left your body.

Flu in the Workplace

No one wants to be sick at work, let alone work with someone who has a virus that could land you in bed for up to a week. Unfortunately, the workplace is the perfect storm for the spread of germs, said Melissa Bronstein, System Director of Infection Prevention for Rochester Regional Health.

People are teeming with bacteria, and germs can live almost anywhere. If someone else’s virus lands on you, there’s a chance you’ll pick up some sort of illness.

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Increase Hand Hygiene

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer or an alcohol-based hand rub.
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Avoid Touching your Face

The flu virus enters the body through your nose, mouth, and eyes. Keep your hands away from your face to decrease your risk of infection.
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Clean Commonly Touched Surfaces

Keep disinfectant wipes at your workspace to ensure someone else’s germs don’t stick around in your area, especially if you eat lunch at your desk.
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Fist Bumps > Handshakes

Humans carry an average of 3,200 bacteria on our hands, which results in lots of opportunities to spread germs. You can always justify a fist bump if it means staying flu-free!

How to Avoid the Flu

number oneGet Your Flu Shot

Want to know the secret to preventing the flu? The answer is short: the flu shot.

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. 

Learn the Best Time to Get Your Flu Shot

number twoWash Your Hands

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.

number threeContain Coughs and Sneezes

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.

 

number fourAvoid Crowds

It’s hard to avoid crowds and attending fun winter events, so this one 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.

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Common Questions About the Flu Vaccine

“The healthiest thing people can do to prevent the spread of flu is to get vaccinated,” said Infection Preventionist Melissa Bronstein.

How Does the Vaccine Work?

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.

Are Flu Vaccines Safe?

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.

Types of Vaccinations

The most common type of flu vaccine is the flu shot. But there is more than one type of vaccination.
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Flu Shot

This is the most common type of vaccine, administered in the arm with a needle. Slight shoulder soreness for a few hours after the shot is common.
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Nasal Spray

Also known as Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV), the nasal spray is another common type of vaccine. Ask your doctor if this is the right type of vaccine for you.
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Quadrivalent Vaccine

The quadrivalent vaccine is designed specifically to protect against four different types of flu viruses.
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Adjuvanted Vaccine

This type of vaccine was developed with an additive that creates a stronger immune response and is licensed specifically for people 65 years and older.

What to Expect When Getting the Flu Shot

Getting your influenza shot may seem daunting, but it’s a simple process that will decrease your chances of catching the virus this season. Once you’ve contacted your nearest location or scheduled an appointment with a doctor to get the flu shot, here’s what you can expect.
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Choose Vaccine Type

Talk to your doctor about the right type of vaccination for you. Depending on your age, health, preference, and allergy restrictions, you may want to decide between a variety of vaccination options.
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Get the Flu Shot

If you decide to get the shot, you’ll feel a similar sensation as drawing blood. Like all injections, you’ll feel a small pinching sensation that will last only a few seconds—a worthy alternative to spending a week in bed!

Get Your Flu Shot Today

The flu vaccine is currently available at your local Rochester Regional Health primary care location.

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Contact your Rochester Regional Health Primary Care Provider to schedule your flu shot.

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