Flu season is here, and we asked Dr. Joel Fishbain, an infectious disease specialist at Beaumont, Grosse Pointe, what to know about the flu, how to avoid it and how the flu is different from COVID-19.
WHAT IS THE FLU?
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. It is different from the stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis), an intestinal infection that can cause diarrhea and vomiting.
HOW IS THE FLU DIFFERENT FROM THE COMMON COLD OR COVID-19?
While flu, COVID-19 and the common cold are all respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. Because symptoms are often similar, testing is the only way to confirm a diagnosis. COVID-19 tends to be more contagious than the flu and can cause more serious illness in some people. Vaccines for flu and COVID-19 are available.
HOW COMMON IS THE FLU?
While 2020 saw much lower flu numbers than usual due to COVID-19 safety measures such as masking and social distancing, on average about 8% of the U.S. population have symptomatic flu each season. The season usually runs from November to April.
WHO IS AT HIGHEST RISK OF SEVERE FLU COMPLICATIONS?
Anyone can get influenza, but those who have not been vaccinated are at the highest risk of being infected. Some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes:
- people 65 years and older
- people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease pregnant women
- children younger than 5 years
BEYOND THE USUAL ADVICE OF GETTING PLENTY OF REST AND STAYING HYDRATED, HOW IS THE FLU TREATED?
There are several antiviral prescription medications that are used to treat flu. If you develop flu symptoms, check with your doctor, especially if you are at higher risk of severe flu complications.
HOW CAN PEOPLE AVOID THE FLU?
The most important step in preventing flu is getting a flu vaccine each year. You should also stay home if you are feeling sick and avoid contact with others experiencing symptoms and practice proper hand hygiene.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO GET AN ANNUAL FLU SHOT?
Everyone 6 months and older should get an annual flu shot. It’s the first and most important step to preventing the flu. It can also lead to a milder illness, reducing the chance of severe complications or hospitalization.
Can I get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?
Recently updated CDC guidelines say it's safe to get both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time. If you do get two shots on the same day, consider getting one in each arm to reduce any pain and swelling that might occur.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON MYTH ABOUT THE FLU SHOT?
The most common myth about the flu shot is it will give you the flu. The two different types of flu vaccines - inactivated influenza vaccines and live attenuated (weakened) influenza vaccines - do not cause the flu. Like any vaccine, they might cause mild side effects such as injection site pain and fatigue.