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

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. 

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. With flu season colliding with the COVID-19 pandemic this year, prevention will be key, and experts advise getting your flu vaccinations sooner rather than later.

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 are preferred if you have mucous or 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 COVID-19

The flu and COVID-19 can present very similarly – both often have muscle aches, fatigue, fevers, cough and congestion. COVID-19 more commonly has loss of taste and smell and GI symptoms such as diarrhea, but in general for this upcoming flu season it will be challenging to tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19 without a test. If you think you have either the flu or COVID-19, contact your primary care provider.

The most common flu symptoms are:

  • High fever/chills
  • Muscle pains
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue

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 flu symptoms and how to get the right care at AtriumHealth.org/GetCareNow