Tackling Flu Season: How to Stay Healthy & When to Call the Clinic
A bout with the flu can leave us asking “did anyone get the number of that bus?” Experts warn flu may hit especially hard this season, and with COVID-19 still spreading widely across the U.S., flu season is poised to be extra challenging again this year. Liz Koury, PA-C of the Laurel Health Centers shares tips on how you can stay healthy and ensure you and your family have peak protection.
WHAT IS INFLUENZA (FLU)?
Influenza, commonly known as “the flu,” is a virus that infects the respiratory tract—the nose, throat, and lungs. It can sicken people of all ages, but certain groups of people are more likely to experience severe symptoms or flu complications. Flu can spell misery with body aches, chills, cough, fever, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, and fatigue.
While some cases of flu are fairly mild, others leave patients feeling like they’ve “been hit by a bus.” The flu can be fatal. Those most at risk for severe complications or death are those 65+; the very young; those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or asthma; and immunocompromised patients.
Flu season refers to when the seasonal flu is spreading most widely, typically beginning in October and lasting through April or May. The upcoming holidays and cold weather drive us to spend more time indoors with others, often in close quarters, which allows the virus to spread easily from person to person.
HOW CAN WE PROTECT OURSELVES AND OTHERS FROM CATCHING THE FLU?
- Get a flu shot this fall, preferably in October to ensure protection lasts all flu season
- Frequently wash your hands for a full 20 seconds
- Clean commonly touched surfaces and items in your home more often like countertops, handles, light switches, remotes, phones, and electronics
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, dispose of it, and then wash your hands; if you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow instead of your hands
- Stay home when you’re feeling sick
- Support your body’s immune response by eating well and staying hydrated
- Monitor your symptoms: if they aren’t improving over time or get worse, call your family provider for guidance
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GET A FLU SHOT?
It’s important to get a flu shot each year. Because there are so many different strains of flu, the most prominent strains circulating can change each year. Your yearly flu shot helps protect you from contracting the flu by protecting you against the strains expected to be most prevalent during flu season. They also reduce your likelihood of getting seriously ill if you contract flu from another strain, as they help your body prepare to recognize and fight off the virus.
October is the best time to get your flu shot in our area for full season-long protection because flu season can last well into spring. The Laurel Health Centers are offering flu shots by appointment all October long. With COVID-19 also heavily circulating this year, it’s especially important to protect your family from flu to avoid potential overlap in illness that may compound or worsen symptoms.
While we may only think about coming to the doctor’s office when we’re feeling sick, it’s important to make time for preventive health measures like flu shots and physicals. The Laurel Health Centers have rigorous safety measures in place to see patients safely throughout the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. All Laurel Health locations offer both onsite appointments and telemedicine visits by phone and video chat.
To schedule your flu shot for peak protection, call the Laurel Health Centers today at 1-833-LAURELHC (1-833-528-7354) and select the location of your choice!
HOW CAN WE TELL FLU AND COVID-19 SYMPTOMS APART?
COVID-19 and influenza (the flu) are both viruses, which means antibiotics do not work to treat them. They also both affect our respiratory tract, and as a result, can share some similar symptoms like coughing and runny / stuffy nose, but there are ways to help distinguish between them. One key difference between the flu and COVID-19 is that many COVID-19 patients experience a noticeable change in or loss of taste and / or smell. COVID-19 also tends to have a dry cough instead of one that brings up mucus or phlegm.
Another difference is each virus’s incubation period. While the flu has a sudden onset of symptoms, COVID-19 symptoms can develop more gradually over time. COVID-19 is more contagious than the seasonal flu and has a longer incubation period. This long incubation period means patients are contagious before they even realize they are sick, which is why preventive measures like social distancing and masking are so important—someone who doesn’t look or feel sick can still be infected and shed the COVID-19 virus to infect others.
It is important to remember that we are all different and as a result, we won’t always experience the same set of symptoms when sick with COVID-19 or the flu. To get a proper diagnosis, you should always call your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can order testing to help confirm which illness you have. If you have respiratory symptoms and are concerned you may have been exposed to COVID-19, you should always call your healthcare provider for a full evaluation.
STOMACH BUGS ARE NOT SEASONAL INFLUENZA
What people call “the stomach flu” is not seasonal influenza, and the flu shot does not protect people from contracting “stomach bugs.” While some people, particularly children, may experience some GI upset when sick with seasonal influenza, the persistent vomiting, cramps, or diarrhea associated with a “stomach bug” are the result of gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the GI tract that results in the symptoms ascribed to “the stomach flu” or “stomach bugs.” It can be caused by many different sources like bacteria, parasites, food, certain health conditions, and other viruses like the Norovirus. Washing your hands, drinking clean water, keeping your distance from those who are sick, and properly preparing your food are the best ways to protect against gastroenteritis.
WHEN SHOULD WE CALL OUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER?
It’s important to be properly evaluated by your healthcare provider to determine which illness you have and how best to treat it. If you have a fever and respiratory symptoms, are experiencing serious or worsening symptoms of any kind, your symptoms aren’t improving over time, or you suspect you may have been exposed to COVID-19, always call your healthcare provider for guidance.
Still need your flu shot or COVID-19 vaccine? Laurel Health has you covered. To schedule your flu shot and COVID-19 shot for peak protection, call the Laurel Health Centers today at 1-833-LAURELHC (1-833-528-7354) and select the location of your choice. Laurel Health offers eight convenient family medicine and pediatrics locations throughout Tioga and Bradford Counties. To find a center near you, visit laurelhc.org.
Videography: Ethan Chabala
Video Editing: Ethan Chabala
Writing: Kristy Warren
Anchor: Sara Vogt
Guest(s): Liz Koury, PA-C
Produced by Vogt Media
Home Page Sponsors: Laurel Health Centers