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How to prevent and manage the flu

December 3, 2021
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A nurse giving a patient the flu shot

What is the flu?

The flu is short for “influenza.” It’s a viral infection that affects your respiratory system, including your nose, throat, and lungs. The flu can often be more serious for people who are over 65. It can also be more serious for people with chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. 

How do I prevent the flu?

The arrival of colder weather comes with a tradition: the annual flu vaccine. There’s good reason. Getting the flu shot is a safe and effective way to prevent illness during flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu shots for everyone 6 months or older. A high-dose flu shot is usually recommended for people age 65 and over. Getting the shot is especially important for people with chronic conditions. By getting your flu shot, you are also helping to protect babies, young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions. 

More than one influenza virus can occur in a flu season, and the vaccine can help protect you against all of them. Also, the flu virus evolves quickly. New vaccines are created each year to keep up with the changing viruses. That’s why a flu shot you received last year may not protect you against this year’s virus.

Good news: It’s not too late to get your flu shot! Flu season lasts until May. Even though flu season has begun, getting your shot is still useful. Flu shots are available at your healthcare provider’s office and at many pharmacies.

On top of your flu shot, remember to wash your hands regularly. Keep six feet apart from others when possible—especially if they have cold or flu symptoms.

How do I know when I have the flu?

Here are the most common flu symptoms:

Sometimes, a cold can be mistaken for the flu. With a cold, you do not typically have a fever or get the chills.

Is it the flu or COVID-19? 

The flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms. But different viruses cause them. The flu tends to come on quickly, but COVID symptoms usually start two to 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus. COVID seems to spread more easily and can cause more serious illness in some people—especially older adults and those with chronic conditions. They also share common symptoms.

If you have flu- or COVID-like symptoms, or you may have been exposed to COVID, call your primary care provider. They may recommend a simple test to confirm the diagnosis.

What should I do if I have the flu?

Many people who get the flu can treat symptoms on their own without seeing a doctor. If you have the flu, make sure to:

It’s also important not to spread it. If you have symptoms, stay home. Make sure to wash your hands regularly and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

There are some flu symptoms you should not attempt to treat on your own. Talk to your primary care provider or go to urgent care. If you have serious signs of infection, such as:

CCA members can also call the CCA Nurse Advice Line if experiencing serious symptoms. Our nurses will provide guidance on managing symptoms at home and can help you decide when to go to urgent care. In some cases, a nurse may be able to schedule you for an in-home visit. 

For more information about the flu, CCA members can call Member Services at 866-610-2273 (TTY 711). 

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