Each year, millions of Americans get sick with the flu. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can even lead to death. Here, experts weigh in on important steps you and your family should take in order to stay healthy.

Your Health | 7 months ago

What You Need to Know this Flu Season

It’s that time of year again. Re-familiarize yourself with what the flu is, how it spreads and the best prevention techniques. And if you do get sick, know how to find the most convenient care. 

As temperatures start to cool, we know flu season is just around the corner. Early predictions suggest that flu might hit our area earlier and harder than in the past several years so experts advise getting your flu vaccinations sooner rather than later, before flu symptoms spread in your 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, sneezes or contact with mucous of an infected person.

How to prevent the flu

Experts agree that the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year. Katie Passaretti, MD, 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 says.

Other tips to prevent getting sick:

  • Cover your sneeze or cough
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel. Soap and water is preferred if you have mucous, visible contamination on your hands
  • 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

Dr. 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 usually 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
  • Headache
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue

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. If not treated appropriately, the flu can be life-threatening.

What to do if you think you have the flu

  • Rest and drink plenty of water.
  • Sanitize your surroundings and wash your hands frequently.

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. In fact, taking antibiotics for the flu can make you sicker or make your sickness last longer. You can learn more about the flu and antibiotics at AtriumHealth.org/Germs.

“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,” says Lisa Davidson, MD, 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 how to get the right care at AtriumHealth.org/GetCareNow