The flu is coming. This respiratory illness is caused by the influenza virus attacking the nose, throat, and lungs.
Each Fall, we see the return of flu season. It doesn’t really go away, but rather migrates from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and back as the seasons alternate, mutating as it goes. Experts say this year we could see a more severe flu season than in recent years, given the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and our more susceptible immune systems due to lack of exposure through the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are the best ways to prepare for getting through this flu season? Below we will look at our top 5 ways to be ready for when flu season arrives and to protect yourself and those around you.
Influenza is a viral infection attacking the nose, throat, and lungs. When we become sick with this virus, we commonly say we have the flu. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, body aches, headache, and runny or stuffy nose. Most people recover from the flu in about a week. However, some people are at higher risk of complications from influenza. Included in this group are very young children, people over age 65, pregnant people, and those with chronic illnesses or obesity.
To be clear, we are not talking about the viral illness that causes diarrhea and vomiting, which many people refer to as the “stomach flu.” In this article, the term “flu” refers to the respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.
Influenza is passed in the same way as other respiratory viruses such as COVID-19: droplets from the nose and mouth. Commonly touched surfaces can also transmit the virus if an infected person touches said surface after touching their nose or mouth.
In the Northern Hemisphere, flu season is typically between October and April every year. As with all viruses, influenza mutates into new strains as it spreads. That means when it returns to the Northern Hemisphere each year, our bodies are not immune to it even if we fought the flu off the previous year.
Some years we see a mild flu season, such as 2020-2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic had people staying home and away from large crowds. The 2021-2022 flu season had far more cases, but was still relatively mild as many people were extra cautious in response to the circulating Omicron variant of COVID-19 last season.
While nobody can say for sure how mild or severe the 2022-2023 flu season will be, experts say the flu could be far more severe as COVID restrictions have eased, people are gathering and traveling more, and our limited exposure to the influenza virus over the last couple years makes our immune systems more susceptible.
Preparing for flu season is good not only for yourself, but for those around you as well. Even if you are confident that the flu would not cause you too much discomfort, the same may not be true for the people you could spread it to at home, at work, and in your community. Most people get over the flu just fine. However, some people are exceptionally vulnerable to an influenza infection and might even require hospitalization if the case is severe. That’s why it is important for everyone to protect themselves as members of a larger community.
Here are our top 5 recommendations to prepare and stay protected this flu season:
The CDC recommends that everyone over age 6 months get the flu vaccine. Studies show that the vaccine reduces the overall risk of contracting the flu and suppresses the severity of symptoms if you do become infected. The more people who get vaccinated, the better for the community at large. When you get vaccinated, you are protecting yourself as well as your loved ones and those around you.
Due to the expectation that the 2022-2023 flu season could be more severe, the White House administration is urging people to get the flu shot as soon as it is available, which is typically September or October each year. If more people are protected early, it will help the population to be better prepared for the arrival of the flu.
That being said, the effectiveness of the vaccine’s protection wears off over time. So, you might consider strategizing about the best time for you to get the shot. If you are at a higher risk of complications from the flu, it is best to get your flu vaccine as soon as it is available. If you are not a high risk individual, you might want to wait until October or November to get vaccinated so that you are better protected through the winter when exposure to influenza is more common.
In a recent White House press briefing, COVID-19 response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, says it’s actually a good idea to get both the flu shot and the new Bivalent COVID-19 booster at the same time. Experts agree with this recommendation and also explain that choosing to get the flu vaccine and the COVID booster simultaneously means you could experience more side effects such as fatigue, headache, and a sore arm. These side effects are usually mild and short-lived.
The flu shot tends to have a 40-60% effectiveness rate. No one can say for sure how severe this year’s flu season will be or how effective the vaccine will be in protecting against it, but taking the vaccine is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself. The FDA-approved vaccines available this year are “quadrivalent,” meaning they protect against four different strains of the influenza virus.
Experts recommend wearing a mask in crowded places, especially indoors. Even if you are vaccinated and if the flu is not yet spreading in your area, many other viruses start to spread this time of year with the start of school. “Masking helps reduce the spread of a lot of respiratory viruses, not just the flu,” said Dr. Emily Martin, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
The influenza virus spreads similar to the way COVID-19 spreads: via tiny droplets or aerosols from the nose and mouth when we breathe, cough, and sneeze. We recommend properly fitting high-quality masks such as N95, KN95, or KF94. These protect better than cloth masks, but cloth masks are better than no mask at all.
The influenza virus and other respiratory viruses spread in the same way as COVID-19, so it makes sense that the recommended precautions to prevent the spread of influenza are the same as what we have been reminded to practice through the COVID pandemic. The more vigilant you are in practicing these easy measures, the lower your chance of getting sick.
There are many surfaces we touch that may have also been recently touched by someone infected with influenza. Doorknobs, light switches, and other high-touch surfaces can transmit viruses left by others.
Try to keep a distance of at least six feet from other people when out in public. This will help prevent respiratory droplets containing influenza from passing person to person.
Again, wearing a mask in public helps prevent the spread of viruses transmitted by droplets from the nose and mouth.
The flu vaccine gives protection for about seven months and is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones during flu season.
In the case you do become sick, it will be important for you to stay home and rest. Make sure you are prepared at home with everything you need to take care of yourself, such as:
If you feel sick, staying home and getting rest is your best bet. Staying home will not only help you feel better faster, it will also prevent you from spreading the virus to others. Taking cold/flu medicine as well as ample rest, hydration, and healthy food will help greatly. Remember to take a rapid at-home COVID test to know what course of action to take.
Our caring staff at Community Healthcare Partners is here to help you prepare and protect yourself and your family this flu season. Call today to schedule your flu shot. We look forward to seeing you and helping you stay healthy and safe this flu season.