Health Care

Staying Safe From the Flu This Season

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As autumn is nearly here and cold and  flu season  is right around the corner. Here’s what to know about the flu to help you stay well this winter. 

Understanding the Flu Season

The winter months are 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 influenza 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 the 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 way 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 aren’t any 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, antibiotics are 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 Types of 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, common winter illnesses include:

  • Bronchitis

  • Otitis media, or middle ear infection

  • Pharyngitis, or sore throat

  • Sinusitis

  • Upper respiratory infection

And right now, we can also add COVID-19 to the possible contagious illnesses spreading this season. 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:

  • 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 when social distancing of 6 ft. can’t be maintained

Vitamin C: Your Partner in Preventing the Flu

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 Every Year Matters

People of all ages need 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.

It’s important to get your flu shot annually, too. Each year, the vaccine is prepared from the flu viruses that were collected in the previous flu season, meaning it is preventing active regarding the viruses that attacked infected people last season.

Additionally, it’s important to get your flu shot before it gets too chilly outside. The CDC suggests September or October to be the best time for your vaccine injection.

When to See a Doctor

If you feel like you’re getting sick, the first thing to do is take care of yourself. You can start treating your early symptoms by:

  • Gargling with salt and water

  • Getting rest

  • Taking Tylenol, Motrin or Advil

  • Taking a decongestant

  • Taking Oscillococcinum, which is available in the grocery store

If your symptoms are getting worse after 24 hours, check in with a doctor. Make an online reservation at AdventHealth Centra Care if these 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

During flu season, if you or a loved one have any symptoms of the flu,  schedule an appointment  with us at AdventHealth Centra Care. We’re here to not only help you feel better, but  feel whole  in body, mind and spirit.  

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