We often underestimate the dangers of the flu, comparing it to the common cold. But the flu is a viral illness that you need to be prepared for. Muscle aches, fever, cough, sore throat and weakness, although they go away in a few days, can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia and heart damage. How can I protect myself from flu complications during the flu season?
Reduce the likelihood of infection
Millions of people are at risk for serious flu complications due to low vaccination rates each year. For example, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., there have been about 7,300 flu-related deaths, including 21 children.
- Doctors recommend that children under the age of 5, people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems be vaccinated against the flu.
Christine Englund, M.D., an infectious disease specialist, believes that it all starts with a flu shot. The expert also advises thoroughly preparing for the flu season in advance to reduce the risk of complications as effectively as possible.
Get a flu shot
Research shows:flu vaccine reduces the risk of illness and the likelihood of serious complications if you become infected.
"The flu vaccine protects not only you, but all of your loved ones," says Dr. Englund.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC recommends vaccination for everyone over the age of 6 months. "We recommend that people get a flu shot in September and October. We've seen in recent years that flu season can start earlier and last much longer. So it's important to get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available," Englund says.
Wear a mask in crowded places
While it's not necessary to wear a mask even when you're sick, experts recommend wearing one in public places during flu and ARI season. This can protect you not only from the flu but also from other illnesses. "I would advise you to wear masks during the respiratory illness season. After all, there are many other viruses that can cause harm, not just COVID-19 or the flu," says Dr. Englund.
Be vigilant and follow safety precautions
The flu virus is spread by airborne droplets from the nose or mouth. Many of the things you have done in the past to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can also reduce your chances of getting the flu:
- getting immunized;
- wearing a mask in crowded places;
- staying 1 to 2 meters away;
- frequent hand washing.
"I feel very comfortable with the fact I have to wear a mask, practice hand hygiene, and social distancing when I go outdoors. Even though I have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and will be getting the flu shot," shares Dr. Englund.
Consult your doctor when you are already sick
The flu and COVID-19 have many overlapping symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, and muscle aches. If you develop these symptoms, call your doctor to find out what to do next: whether you should get tested for the flu or COVID-19 or get a prescription for antiviral treatment.
Fill out your first aid kit
You can also prepare for the flu at home on your own. Dr. Englund suggests keeping a few remedies on hand in case the flu strikes:
- Antipyretics such as acetaminophen;
- ibuprofen for muscle aches;
- cough syrup and a thermometer;
- a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels.
"There are many excellent over-the-counter medications that can be used to relieve symptoms. Buy flu and cold medicine to reduce the stuffy nose and cough you may have," recommends Englund.
Stay home if you are sick
If you get the flu, you should stay home, drink plenty of fluids and rest until you feel better. If you must have contact with other people, wear a mask.
- "A person is most likely to contract the flu from others the day before symptoms appear and over the next five to seven days," Dr. Englund explains.
Winter is the most active period for the spread of acute respiratory infections, influenza and norovirus. Washing your hands often and sanitizing surfaces, following cough etiquette, and staying home when you're sick - these simple steps can keep you and your loved ones safe from dangerous viruses. Experts also believe that masks should become a familiar part of our lives during the season of severe respiratory illness. And it's okay if we can protect people and reduce the number of deaths," doctors say.