The flu is a contagious illness that can cause you to miss school, work or other important activities. In some cases, it can lead to serious complications or even death. This year, the combined impact of flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to increase your risk. Two things you can do to protect yourself and others are to get a flu shot and stay home if you are sick.
Where Can I Get a Flu Shot?
Flu vaccinations are typically available through your doctor's office, your local Health Department or local drugstores. This year, primary care providers employed by MidMichigan Health will be offering flu shots by appointment during regular business hours, and many offices have also added extra appointments during evening and weekend hours to ensure patients have plenty of opportunities to get this important protection. Call your doctor's office to make an appointment.
Is a Flu Shot Covered by Insurance?
Most insurance plans cover flu vaccinations as a "preventive benefit" with zero out-of-pocket costs for you. Check with your insurance company to see whether this is a covered benefit in your plan.
Who Should Be Immunized?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages everyone over 6 months old to get vaccinated. They especially urge high-risk individuals and anyone who expects to have contact with high risk individuals to get immunized.
If you are are allergic to chicken eggs, have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), or have had severe reactions or illness due to past flu shots, talk to your doctor before getting the vaccine. If you are currently ill, wait until your symptoms lessen and then get vaccinated.
These groups of people have an even higher risk of getting complications from the flu and are most strongly urged to get the flu vaccine:1
- Children ages 6 months to 19 years old
- Adults ages 65 years and older
- People with certain chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, or a weakened immune system
- Women who will be pregnant during the flu season
- People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- Health-care workers
- People who come in contact with children younger than 6 months (such as childcare workers)
- People who live with any of the above high-risk individuals
Stay Home If You Are Sick
If you have symptoms and are unsure whether they are related to flu or COVID-19, please stay home and contact your primary care provider or an Urgent Care for evaluation to see whether testing is warranted. MidMichigan Health offers a variety of virtual care options and can safely accommodate you if you need to be seen in person. However, in order to properly prepare and protect others, we need to know if you have symptoms, so please call ahead.
Signs and Symptoms: Do I Have the Flu or COVID-19?
This year, it will be particularly important to pay close attention to your health as COVID-19 and the seasonal flu will both be active. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea
A clearly different symptom for COVID-19 is a change in or loss of taste or smell.
How do these viruses spread?
Both COVID-19 and flu can spread from person to person during close contact, mainly by droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking. This can happen even if the person isn't showing symptoms, has very mild symptoms or never developed any symptoms. You can get infected by physical human contact (e.g. shaking hands) or by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose or eyes. COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more super-spreading events than the flu, quickly and easily spreading to a lot of people and resulting in continuous spreading over time.
How long after exposure and infection do symptoms appear?
- Flu symptoms typically develop anywhere from one to four days after infection.
- COVID-19 symptoms develop two to 14 days (with an average of five days) after being infected.
How long can someone spread the virus?
- Flu - Most people with flu are contagious for about one day before they show symptoms.
- COVID-19 - It is possible to spread the virus for about two days before experiencing signs or symptoms and remain contagious for at least ten days after those symptoms first appeared. It's also possible to spread COVID-19 even if you don't develop any symptoms.
How Do I Prevent the Flu?
Get Vaccinated. Each year, researchers identify the three strains that are most likely to cause the majority of flu illness that season. They develop a flu vaccine from those strains. Getting vaccinated in the late fall and early winter can enable your body's immune system to develop antibodies against the strains of flu included in the vaccine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting vaccinated early -- as soon as the vaccine becomes available -- provides the best protection for you and your community. However, they still urge high risk people who have not been vaccinated by the end of November to get vaccinated in December or January, as flu activity continues well into the spring.
What If I Do Not Get a Flu Vaccine This Year?
There are still steps you can take to help avoid the flu:
- Keep your distance. If you know someone who has the flu, give them plenty of space. If you are experiencing flu symptoms, avoid contact with others. The virus is spread through airborne transmission or personal contact. Never visit hospitals or nursing homes when you are sick.
- Wash your hands! The flu virus can survive on doorknobs, keyboards and other objects. Touch them, then touch your nose and mouth, and you've got it.
- Avoid sharing towels, cups or utensils.
- Avoid second-hand smoke. If you smoke, try to quit.
- Eat healthy, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep.
There are also prescription medications that have been approved for prevention of flu symptoms, for those who are unable to take the vaccine. Ask your doctor for more information about these medications.
How Can I Treat the Flu?
Unfortunately, there isn't a cure for the flu, but your doctor can prescribe medications for treating the symptoms. There are also over-the-counter remedies that may help control your symptoms. Before using an over-the-counter medication, it is always wise to check with your doctor or pharmacist to be sure the product is right for you.