Survival Tips for Cold and Flu Season
You’ve probably had many cold and flu viruses of varying severity. But you may still be surprised by just how badly a cold or flu virus makes you feel. And you may not remember what treatments work best or when to see a doctor.
From prevention to treatment, here are the essential things you should know about cold and flu season. You might want to print and save this one—maybe stash it with your cold medicines.
1. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to provide protection and is effective for about 12 months
The flu vaccine prompts your body to develop antibodies that can guard against the flu, but it can take up to two weeks for these antibodies to develop sufficiently to provide protection.
The vaccine is effective until the next flu season, when new strains emerge and begin to spread through the population.
2. Get your flu shot by the end of October
While the flu vaccine isn’t foolproof, the CDC advises everyone over 6-months-old be inoculated by the end of October. In most years, when the influenza vaccine is well matched to the most prevalent strains, the vaccine reduces the likelihood of catching the flu by about 50 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone over 6-months-old be vaccinated against the flu, noting that it’s particularly important for young children, the elderly, and people with serious underlying health conditions.
3. There’s more to prevention than vaccines
For maximum protection against the flu, don’t just get a flu shot. Wash your hands regularly, don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes with dirty hands, and avoid being around people who are sick. You should also clean and sanitize surfaces that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
Flu Symptoms & Treatment
4. Get care if you think you have the flu
You’ll feel like you’ve been run over by a truck—chills, high fever, too tired to get up, achy all over. Flu hits you suddenly, while a cold comes on gradually with little or no fever. Use the cold vs flu symptom tool and if you think it’s the flu, seek care right away. If you’re a Group Health member, you can call the 24/7 Consulting Nurse Service to see if your symptoms warrant an in-person visit. This is important because there is a difference between cold and flu. Why? Flu is a more serious viral infection and can lead to complications like pneumonia. There are also anti-viral treatments for the flu that can shorten the virus’s duration if taken within 48 hours of onset. Family members can receive a flu vaccine, which might prevent them from becoming infected.
5. Don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics
Antibiotics kill bacteria that cause bacterial infections; they don’t kill viruses that cause colds or the flu. Yet for years patients have requested and received antibiotics for colds and flu. Antibiotics are ineffective for viral infections—and potentially harmful.
Now doctors are seeing increasing evidence of antibiotic resistance—bacterial infections that won’t respond to any standard antibiotics. It’s believed that this resistance is a result of people taking antibiotics when they don’t need them (for viral infections) or failing to finish a prescription of antibiotics (stopping when they feel better). If you take only part of a prescription, susceptible bacteria are killed, but resistant bacteria remain and grow stronger.
How do you know if you have a bacterial infection? In the case of strep throat, a throat swab will give you a clear diagnosis. If symptoms last more than two weeks, or are associated with a high fever, shortness of breath, significant ear pain, severe difficulty swallowing, or persistent sinus pain, then it’s time to talk to your doctor.
To read more survival tips, go to GHC.org.
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