Preventing a cold or the flu is often one of the biggest health challenges in the fall. But with coronavirus (COVID-19) still lingering, it’s even more important to prepare yourself – and your family. Boost your immunity, get your flu shot and educate yourself on how to stay healthy. And, just as importantly, learn what to do if you get sick.
“Hospitals and doctor’s offices are known to be busier during the fall because of cold and flu season,” explains Peter C. Olson, MD, internal medicine physician at Swedish Sand Point Primary Clinic. “Take the necessary steps to reduce the spread of the flu. This also helps us keep valuable hospital resources available if COVID-19 peaks again this fall.”
Dr. Olson shares his advice on reducing your risk of getting a cold or the flu, and why it’s even more important during the pandemic.
What’s new with the flu?
Every year, scientists and researchers at the CDC carefully review the previous flu season to better understand what viruses may be circulating in the community.
As in previous years, this year there will be trivalent vaccines (containing three virus strains: H1N1, H3N2, B/Victoria lineage) and quadrivalent vaccines (containing four virus strains: H1N1, H3N2, B/Victoria lineage, Yamagata lineage) that are intended to give maximum coverage. Both vaccines help reduce your risk of getting the flu, but a quadrivalent vaccine offers slightly more protection because it includes more strains.
The flu shot is the best chance of staying healthy, or at least having a milder case of the flu if you do become sick. Since we don’t know how the flu will interact with COVID-19, it is best to do all you can to boost your immunity. This is important when we move indoors where it’s easier to spread viruses like the flu and COVID-19.
Why the flu shot is even more important this year
“Everyone should get a flu vaccine, every year,” Dr. Olson simply and clearly states. And this year it’s even more important. COVID-19 affects many systems and organs in your body, but especially your lungs. If you develop a cough or respiratory issues from a cold or the flu, this can put extra strain on your breathing and lung capacity.
The flu shot is safe and proven to help reduce the cases and severity of flu. And you can be confident that we’re taking all the necessary precautions to limit your exposure to COVID-19 when you come in for your annual flu vaccine.
Officials typically recommend individuals get the flu shot at any time during the flu season, which runs from about October to April. Swedish offers flu shots at all our primary care locations and at Express Care locations.
How to boost immunity and reduce the risk of getting a cold or the flu
When it comes to staying healthy, it all comes down to the basics: Take care of yourself.
“The focus of preventive care is to set your body up for success when confronted with incoming threats, like a virus. That’s true if it’s the common cold, the flu and even COVID-19,” says Dr. Olson. “People can make several lifestyle changes to better prepare their bodies and immune systems.”
He shares his advice on staying healthy and well.
- Sleep. Adults need at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Stay active. Get 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity each week. (This includes walking, running, biking, swimming and other activities that elevate your heart rate.)
- Get your flu vaccine. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Dr. Olson’s final (and most important) piece of advice is for everyone to get their flu shot.
- You can also help prevent the spread of getting the flu or a cold with these simple steps:
- Wash your hands. Turns out, there is a right (and wrong way) to wash your hands. Get the steps from the CDC on how to do it properly.
- Cover your cough and sneeze. Did you know that germs from a cough and sneeze can travel 6-8 feet? Stop the spread of germs by coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a tissue.
- Avoid people who are sick. Discover how to tell if a friend or family member has a cold or the flu. Keep your distance if someone close to you is showing symptoms. Chances are the steps you take to socially distance during COVID-19 can also help avoid other illnesses.
- Wear a mask. This year, a mask is recommended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It can do double duty by stopping the spread of germs that cause colds and the flu.
Be informed. Know the symptoms of cold, flu and COVID-19
This fall, many of us will find ourselves assessing each sneeze and cough. We’ll worry with every tickle in our throats we’re coming down with COVID-19 or another illness. Knowing the difference between a cold, COVID-19 and the flu can help you have a little peace of mind, and most importantly, know when it’s time to see the doctor.
According to Dr. Olson, “Every person responds to viral infection differently. However, there are a couple of warning signs that your illness may be turning into something more serious or could even be COVID-19.”
You may need to see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Persistent fever over 100.4, despite taking medication to reduce the fever
- New or worsening shortness of breath
- Confusion or disorientation
You should contact your primary care provider right away if you have a pre-existing condition that puts you at risk of developing complications from any virus. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
“We don’t know for sure how individuals will respond to threats from COVID, flu and colds happening all at once,” says Dr. Olsen. “We do know that any infection or pre-existing condition that impact your immune system may make you more vulnerable to COVID-19.”
Managing your cold and flu symptoms
The flu often mimics a terrible cold, but then takes a turn for the worse. It’s a respiratory disease caused by viruses that infect your throat, nose and lungs. It causes symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat and basically makes you feel terrible all over. If you happen to catch the flu, here are some ways to keep those symptoms at bay.
Find a doctor
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Talk to your doctor and make sure you’re up-to-date with recommended vaccines. Find out what we’re doing to keep you safe when you visit at www.swedish.org/covid-19.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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