Cold and flu season begins every fall and lasts through end of winter, peaking between December and February. Most people experience cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, fever, and fatigue for about seven days after symptoms first begin.
Because the virus spreads every fall and winter, it’s important to determine if you have the flu, know what to do to recover, and recognize when to seek medical care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best thing to do if you don’t feel well is to stay home and rest. To prevent spreading germs, avoid being in close contact with others, wash your hands often, and clean anything you touch. Most people with the flu will only experience mild symptoms and may not need medical care. But those who are pregnant, 65 or older or under 5, or living with a chronic health issue should call their doctor. Plus, you should call your doctor if you feel worse than you think you should or if you’re worried about how sick you are.
Most people usually start to feel better within a week. If you get the flu after you’ve had the flu vaccine, you may start to feel better faster.
Yes, there are several types of tests that can help diagnose the flu. Two types of tests, the rapid influenza test and the rapid molecular assay, provide results in 15-25 minutes. The rapid molecular assay is generally more accurate than the rapid influenza test. Your doctor may not need to use a flu test to diagnose you, instead relying on clinical expertise to diagnose you after an exam.
The flu, common cold, and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, but they have very similar symptoms. While flu symptoms usually come on much more suddenly than common cold symptoms, the only way to be sure is to see your doctor and get tested.
Since the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, the CDC says it’s possible — although very uncommon — to have both at the same time. This is called a coinfection. Even though it’s rare, people with a coinfection are at a higher risk of developing more serious symptoms that can land them in the hospital.
While the best course of treatment for most people is to stay home and rest, if you are at a higher risk to develop more severe symptoms (like those who are pregnant, 65 or older, or living with a chronic health issue), your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine to help reduce the length and severity of your illness. These treatments are more effective earlier on in the illness, so it’s important to talk with your doctor as soon as you start feeling ill.
If you have a fever or body aches, you should start to feel relief from those symptoms around day 4 or 5. Other symptoms should improve in the following days.
Yes. It’s possible to develop severe symptoms, even if you think you’re in good health otherwise. Head to the hospital or seek medical attention if you have trouble breathing, a high fever, can’t stop vomiting, or become confused.
Head to the hospital or seek medical attention if you have trouble breathing, a high fever, can’t stop vomiting, or become confused.
Yes. Because there are several different variants of the flu, you can get the flu more than once in the same season.
It may seem unavoidable, but there are lots of ways you can help protect yourself from getting the flu and spreading it to others around you.
You can take everyday actions to help stay healthy, but the most important thing you can do is get the flu vaccine from your doctor or a local pharmacy.
Get your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine
Practice social distancing
Wash your hands
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Stay home when you’re sick
Wear a mask in crowded places
Yes. The flu shot is for pretty much everyone. By getting yours, you’ll help prevent spreading the virus to others around you who may not be able to get the vaccine. Plus, if you do get the flu, the vaccine can reduce the length and severity of your illness.
Certain people are at higher risk of developing severe flu symptoms or complications, like young children, the elderly, women who are pregnant, or those with chronic health conditions like chronic lung disease, asthma, or heart disease. It’s particularly important for them to get a yearly flu vaccine.
The CDC says that September and October are ideal times to get the flu shot. It’s early enough that flu season isn’t in full swing, and you’ll still be protected during the later part of the flu season.
Flu shots are available at local pharmacies, urgent care centers, and clinics on a walk-in basis with no appointment needed. Some employers and community groups host vaccine clinics in the fall. Your AHN PCP also has the flu vaccine, but you’ll need to make an appointment for it ahead of time.
In most cases, the flu shot is free.
If you’re between the ages of 2 and 49 years old, you may be able to get a nasal spray vaccine instead of an injection. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see which version is right for you. The CDC website has more information about the nasal spray flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine has safely protected people from the flu for over 50 years. There are different flu shots approved for people of different ages and health levels. Even people with an egg allergy can get a flu shot. But like every treatment, the CDC says that some groups of people shouldn’t get the flu vaccine.
According to the CDC, pregnant women should get a flu vaccine by injection (a shot) during any trimester of their pregnancy to help protect both mom and baby. They don’t recommend the nasal spray vaccine for expectant mothers.
Some people may experience mild side effects. The most common ones are soreness, redness, and/or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headache, nausea, muscle aches, and fatigue. Just like other injections, getting the flu shot can occasionally cause fainting.
No, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot.
The CDC estimates that the vaccine can help reduce flu illnesses by up to 40% and 60% every year. While getting a shot isn’t a guarantee you’ll stay flu-free, it can reduce the duration and severity of your symptoms if you do get sick.
COVID-19 may spread during flu season, too. So it’s important to know how to protect yourself from both.
No. The illnesses are caused by different viruses, so only the COVID-19 vaccine protects against the COVID-19 virus.
Yes, the CDC says that it’s okay to get both together.
View our Coronavirus resources section for more information about vaccines and boosters.
There are convenient walk-in options all around you. Just head to your local pharmacy or urgent care. Check around at work, too, since your employer may sponsor flu vaccine clinics.
Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 to schedule your annual checkup with an AHN primary care physician. Be sure to mention that you want a flu or COVID-19 vaccine, too.
If you’re a current patient, you can log in to MyChart to schedule online for a flu shot or call your doctor's office directly.
Don’t have a MyChart account? Learn more about MyChart and register for your free MyChart account today.
Use Find Care to find the right doctor near you and make an appointment online.