Flu season: How to protect yourself

November 08, 2021
5 min read

WRITTEN BY

Jason Schweichler, DO

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What causes the flu?

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus, which spreads easily during the winter months when people spend time together indoors. Influenza can spread quickly between people when an infected person coughs or sneezes, dispersing droplets of the virus into the air. It can also be spread by hands contaminated by the virus. There are many strains of influenza virus, and the virus can change from year to year, which is why anyone eligible—that is, everyone six months of age and older—should get a flu vaccine each year. 

Who is most at risk for the flu?

People most at risk for severe seasonal influenza are pregnant women; children younger than 5 years; people older than 65 years; people with chronic medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, heart and lung diseases, and diabetes; and people with increased risk of exposure to influenza, which includes healthcare workers.

What are the most common symptoms of the flu?

Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, and a runny nose. The cough is often dry, can be severe, and can last two or more weeks.

Can I have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

It is possible to have flu and other respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 at the same time. Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. If you’re experiencing symptoms, getting tested can help determine if you are sick with flu or COVID-19.

How is the flu treated?

Because the flu is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics don’t help. Most of the time, resting and drinking plenty of water while the flu runs its course is the best treatment. Most people will recover within a week. If someone is in a high-risk group or is experiencing severe symptoms, they should contact their healthcare provider.

How can I minimize my risk for getting the flu?

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine every year. Every year, a new vaccine is developed based on the information about the new influenza strain that is circling the globe. Although getting vaccinated just before flu season begins provides the best protection, getting vaccinated at any time during flu season can still help prevent flu infections. And the good news is that, according to CDC guidelines, you can get a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time, including a COVID-19 booster shot.

Beyond getting vaccinated, continuing to practice the hygiene measures we’ve all learned during the pandemic, including washing hands often, physical distancing, and wearing masks in certain situations, can also help prevent you from contracting a respiratory illness. Washing your hands after touching potentially contaminated objects (such as door handles and light switches) has been proven to effectively reduce the chances of passing on or developing the flu. Sneezing or coughing into your elbow is another way to reduce transmission of the flu virus.

If you do contract the flu, avoid others while you have symptoms and for 24 hours after the symptoms have gone.

About The Author

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Dr. Schweichler earned his bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine biology from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his residency in osteopathic family medicine at Clarion Hospital in Clarion, Pennsylvania.

Outside of the office, Dr. Schweichler enjoys spending time with his wife, family and friends.

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