With the relaxation of physical distancing measures that prevented the spread of COVID-19 last fall and winter, epidemiologists predict an especially heavy-hitting flu season through 2022. To prevent flu cases from popping up like Spirit Halloween stores in abandoned K-Marts, take the time to get vaccinated and learn how to minimize your chances of contracting the virus.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by one of many influenza viruses, causing symptoms ranging anywhere from mild to severe. Because the virus itself constantly changes in order to survive from host to host, there’s often a new kind of flu virus each year.
Symptoms vary from case to case, but they usually include fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, achy muscles, fatigue, and headaches. Some flu patients experience vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than in adults. These symptoms typically begin two days after the virus enters the body, so it’s possible to spread the flu before you realize you’re sick. Some flu patients can be asymptomatic as well – all the more reason to get vaccinated.
The flu can spread to others within a six-foot distance who inhale the respiratory droplets we release into the air when we cough, talk, sneeze, or sing. These droplets can also linger on household surfaces, and we become infected when we interact with a contaminated object and then touch our face. If you have the flu, you’re more contagious the first three to four days after you first get sick. Most healthy adults are able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop to a week after recovering from the illness, but kids and immunocompromised patients can pass the virus on for longer than 7 days.
Because the flu virus thrives in chillier climates, flu season typically occurs in fall and winter. Cases begin to increase in October and peak in February, but can last until as late as May. In the United States, between 3% and 11% of the nation’s population get sick with the flu every year – that’s between 9.3 million and 45 million people, from infants onward, depending on the severity of the season’s impact.
This flu season proves to be especially challenging, as the flu shares many similar symptoms to COVID-19. Though COVID is more contagious, they’re both respiratory viruses that can cause many of the same health effects, even death in severe cases. Unfortunately, it’s possible to contract both viruses at the same time. The only way to determine what respiratory virus you have is to take a medically administered test, but learn more about identifying the differences between the two from the CDC here.
Though most flu patients recover within a few days to a few weeks, developing complications like bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections is not uncommon.
Much like with COVID-19, some populations find themselves more at risk for complications related to the flu. Adults 65 and older and children younger than 2 may be especially affected by the virus, though severe cases in children can extend up to the age of 5. Flu patients with respiratory conditions, blood and endocrine disorders, or medical histories related to the heart, liver, or metabolic functioning are also more at risk. If you are immunocompromised or pregnant, you should be especially careful during flu season.
Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from the flu. To prevent the spread of the virus this fall and winter,
Clean and disinfect your environment. Pay special attention to high-touch surfaces and other objects that could be contaminated with the virus.
Riverside offers flu vaccine clinics through the month of October, free for Riverside Medical Clinic patients. Most of these clinics are drive-thru, and masks are required. Visit our flu clinic web page for dates and locations.