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How to Treat & Prevent the Flu

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. 

What to Expect for the 2023-2024 Flu Season

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.

Our experienced physicians share everything you need to know about flu treatment and prevention so you can know how widespread influenza is in your community. In addition to reading about the most up-to-date number of flu cases, you can find information about the best ways to treat flu symptoms, find flu shots, how long a flu season lasts, and more.

How Many Flu Cases Are There This Season?

  • Flu cases this week in Monroe County (as of April 6): 281 (11,553 for the season)
  • Flu cases this week in New York state (as of April 6): 8,955 (379,831 for the season)
  • Hospitalizations statewide this week: 683 (24,094 for the season)
  • Deaths due to flu in New York state this season: 324 (16 pediatric deaths)

What Was Flu Like Last Year At This Time?

As a way to compare the current flu season to flu seasons in the past, data from previous flu season can be found below for the current week as compared to the same week in years past.

2022-2023 season: 2,032 this week

2021-2022 season: 8,977 this week

2020-2021 season: 105 this week

2019-2020 season: 193 this week

2018-2019 season: 4,522 this week

Find a Flu Shot Near You

Our infectious disease experts agree that the best way to protect yourself from severe flu infection and hospitalization is to get your annual flu shot. There are plenty of locations in every community where you can get the flu vaccine - find one near you!

Flu Vaccine Finder

When is Flu Season?

Flu season ramps up during the fall and winter months—usually between early December and late March of the following year. Based on more than 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 2023-2024 flu season is on par with a more typical season, according to Dr. Christine Cameron, Primary Care Physician at Rochester Regional Health.

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.

- Christine Cameron, MD, Primary Care Physician, Medina Family Medicine

Early Flu Symptoms

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

number oneFatigue

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.


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 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.

number oneSore Throat

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.


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, Cold & COVID-19: What’s The Difference?

All three of these illnesses caused by respiratory viruses share similar symptoms such as stuffy nose, sore throat, and fatigue. It’s not uncommon to mistake one for the others. But getting a COVID-19 test as a precaution is always a safe first step to take. 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.

General Aches and Pains
Fatique, Weakness
Extreme Exhaustion
vomiting or diarrhea
Sneezing or Runny Nose
Sore Throat
Shortness of Breath
Mild to moderate
(100-102 F)can last 3-4 days
Usual(often severe)
IntenseCan last up to 2-3 weeks
Usual(starts early)
Commoncan become severe
In more serious infections

How to Treat the Flu

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“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.

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Drink Liquids

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.

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Stay Home

“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.

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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 infect you with the actual virus. 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 26 million people tested positive for the flu in 2022-2023, according to the CDC. 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.

How Does The Flu Spread?

No one wants to be sick and still have to go to work or school, let alone be around someone who has a virus that could land you in bed for up to a week. Unfortunately, these places are some of the most common places where germs spread, said Melissa Bronstein, System Director of Infection Prevention for Rochester Regional Health.

What You Can Do To Stop The Spread

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Wash Your Hands

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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Don't Touch 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 Common 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!

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.

How to Avoid the Flu

There are many best practices you can do to avoid the flu altogether, like getting your flu shot and thoroughly washing your hands.

number oneGet Your 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. 

While the best time of the year to get the flu shot is before the start of flu season in late October, any time is the right time.

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 precautions 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 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.

Types of Flu 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.

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.

Is the Flu Vaccine 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. Children under the age of 9 who are getting their vaccine for the first time will receive two doses.