Peak influenza (flu) season is approaching, and it is important to know the signs and symptoms of the flu in case you become ill. Being aware of flu symptoms is especially important this year, as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Respiratory illnesses such as the flu, COVID-19, and the common cold share similar traits, which can make it difficult to determine why you don't feel well. Early diagnosis is key to your treatment and recovery.
The flu is serious
The flu is not a bad cold. It is a very contagious disease that spreads around the United States every year, usually between October and May. It can result in serious health complications, including pneumonia or bacterial infections, which can lead to hospitalization and even death. Most people who get the flu will recover in several days, but some are at an increased risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical problems.
Those who have the flu often feel some or all the following symptoms, which typically begin suddenly between one to four days after infection:
- Fever or chills
- Cough Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea (more common in children)
- Preventive actions to stop the spread of germs
Take everyday preventive actions that are recommended to reduce the spread of flu.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with viruses that cause flu.
- If you get sick with the flu, take antiviral drugs, if prescribed by a healthcare provider. Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia, when treatment is started early.
- For flu, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Fever should be gone without the need to use a fever-reducing medicine.
How is COVID-19 different from the flu?
COVID-19 symptoms vary and can occur two to five days, and up to 14 days after infection. If you become ill as a result of COVID-19 you may experience the symptoms presented above. While COVID-19 and the flu have many symptoms in common, there are a few important differences. Common COVID-19 symptoms which aren't normally present with the flu are:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- New loss of taste or smell
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea (for both adults and children)
Testing is the only way to confirm why you are ill
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects both the flu and COVID-19 viruses to spread this winter, and it is possible to have both illnesses at the same time. While flu testing is widely available at most medical facilities, please check the COVID-19 Testing Site Locator for local testing facilities. You can also use the CDC COVID-19 Self Checker to help you make decisions on when to seek testing and medical care.
It's never too late to get the flu vaccine!
Everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine every season, ideally by the end of October, especially people at higher risk. Flu vaccine can help reduce the burden of flu illnesses, doctors' visits, hospitalizations and has been shown to be lifesaving. Fight flu and get vaccinated today!
All Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) plans offer flu vaccine coverage. Visit the OPM Healthcare Plan Information website or your insurance provider for more information. You can also contact your healthcare provider's office or use the CDC Flu page and the Flu Vaccine Finder to locate retail pharmacies near you that offer the flu vaccine.