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Fall is in the air, and that means cold and flu season is on its way, too. Here’s what to know about the flu to help you stay well this winter and beyond.
Understanding Flu Season
The winter months are also known as cold and flu season, but why? Experts say that flu season starts at the end of autumn and influenza cases increase during the cold season because the virus thrives in cold climates.
The cold weather is conducive to the flu virus, so it’s not that your immunity is weaker during the winter months. However, immunity often determines who gets the flu. The influenza virus affects people of all ages, but not everyone gets the flu during flu season. People who have chronic conditions and underlying illnesses have lower immunity, which can predispose them to get the flu.
What’s the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?
The cold and flu aren’t the same, but it can be difficult to tell the symptoms apart — especially when you start to feel sick. With cold and flu, many symptoms start and present in the same ways early on.
Cold symptoms could be due to a virus or a bacterial infection, while the flu means infection with the influenza A, B or C virus. The difference is that cold symptoms only affect the upper respiratory tract.
While there is a vaccination for the flu, there are no vaccines for cold symptoms. However, you can take steps to help prevent both illnesses.
Understanding Viral vs. Bacterial Infections
A viral illness is caused by specific viruses, and the signs and symptoms vary by the kind of virus, while in bacterial infections, specific bacteria cause the infection.
Doctors provide supportive treatment for both illnesses, but the treatment of the illness is different, depending on whether someone has a virus or bacterial infection.
For bacterial infections, an antibiotic is the answer. For viruses like the flu, patients can be treated with Tamiflu, which is given in the first two to three days after a person gets influenza A or B.
Common Winter Illnesses
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to know what type of bug you've caught because many of the common ones have similar symptoms.
During the winter snow and cold, people often get inflammations of the sinuses, ear infections, sore or strep throat, bronchitis and pneumonia or bacterial pneumonia.
Along with the flu, other common winter illnesses include:
- Otitis media, or middle ear infection
- Pharyngitis, or sore throat
- Upper respiratory infection
COVID-19 is spread person-to-person, like the flu, and may show similar symptoms, so it’s important to confirm your diagnosis with a doctor.
Preventing Wintertime Illnesses
To steer clear of a cold, the flu and a host of other wintertime sicknesses, prevention is key.
To stay healthy and well this winter, you can opt to:
- Get the flu shot
- Avoid handshakes
- Avoid processed sugar, which can increase the risk of infection in the body
- Gargle with water and salt, or warm water and apple cider vinegar
- Get sufficient rest
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Take vitamin C and zinc daily
- Take elderberry products, like capsules and lozenges
- Stay well-hydrated
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
- Wear a cloth face covering in public
Vitamin C: Your Partner in Flu Prevention
Experts agree that vitamins prevent viruses and bacteria from attaching to your cellular walls, so it’s recommended to increase your dose of vitamins during the winter months, especially vitamin C.
Why Getting Your Flu Shot Matters
People of all ages should get the flu vaccine, and it’s especially important for the elderly and adults with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and asthma. Getting a flu shot is far better than getting the flu.
Along with pneumonia, which is the most serious complication, the flu can involve infections of the central nervous system, like encephalitis and meningitis, along with other less-aggressive complications. The influenza vaccine reduces the likelihood of these infections.
Despite these facts, many people are skeptical of the flu shot, thinking that they will get the flu from a vaccine, but it’s highly purified now, compared to in the past, and the side effects from the vaccine are minimal, experts say.
If you do experience some unpleasant side effects after your flu shot, don’t be alarmed. Less than 5% of people who get the flu vaccine experience symptoms like localized pain at the injection site, discomfort like a headache and a very low-grade fever, but typically these symptoms don’t last for more than 24 to 36 hours.
Update Your Flu Shot Every Year
It’s important to get your flu shot annually. Each year, the vaccine is prepared from the flu viruses that were collected in the previous flu season, meaning it’s up to date and actively preventing the viruses that attacked infected people during the most recent season.
Additionally, it’s important to get your flu shot before it gets too chilly outside. The CDC suggests September or October is the best timeframe to get your vaccine.
When to See a Doctor
If you feel like you’re getting sick, you must take care of yourself. You can start treating your early symptoms by:
- Gargling with salt and water
- Getting plenty of rest
- Taking Tylenol, Motrin or Advil
- Taking a decongestant
- Taking Oscillococcinum (available in convenience and grocery stores)
If your symptoms get worse after 24 hours, check in with a doctor. See your primary care physician if the following symptoms get worse after 24 hours:
- A temperature of 102F or higher
- A painful cough
- Blue or gray lips, skin or nails
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Mental confusion
- Severe headache
- Shaking or chills
- Skin rash
- Worsening earache
- Worsening sore throat
Whole-Person Care for Flu Season and Beyond
At AdventHealth, whole-person care is at the heart of all we do. Take charge of your health and prepare for the flu season by making an appointment to get your flu shot with your primary care provider.
Call the Member Experience Center at Call855-747-7476 and we’ll connect you to a primary care physician.
Learn more about how to stay well in body, mind and spirit here. You deserve to feel whole.