If there’s one good thing we can say about the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that COVID preventive measures led to very low numbers of influenza (flu) cases during the 2020-21 flu season. In fact, there were only 848 cases of the flu in San Diego County throughout the entire season, whereas the average number of cases in prior seasons, before the pandemic, was more than 11,000.
Unfortunately, as some spread-prevention measures have been lifted and more people return to pre-pandemic activities — travel, dining out, gatherings, and in-person work and school — it looks as if flu activity across the country will be higher than last year.
So, what should you do if the flu gets you? According to Dr. Jyotu Sandhu, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, the better question to ask is how can you best protect yourself from the flu before that happens?
Why vaccination is vital
“We recommend that everybody age 6 months and older gets their flu shot,” Dr. Sandhu says. “It’s definitely not too late to receive the influenza vaccine. With the flu season underway, and typically getting worse around January and February, now is the time.”
Dr. Sandhu reports that experts throughout the country are expecting a worse-than-normal flu season this year.
“Typically, we have about 200,000 hospitalizations and approximately 40,000 to 50,000 deaths in the U.S. during the flu season,” he says. “But this year, given we’re in the midst of the COVID pandemic as well, we’re expecting about 600,000 hospitalizations. We need 75% to 80% of the population vaccinated to bring that number down.”
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you take other general preventive steps to avoid flu infection, such as:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects
What to do if you get the flu
However, because some will choose to forgo vaccination and others may experience mild breakthrough cases of the flu, Dr. Sandhu offers recommendations about what to do if you think you may have the flu.
If you experience flu-like symptoms — including fever, chills, headache, sore throat, congestion, body aches and fatigue — he recommends you:
- Isolate yourself from others
- Maintain good nutrition and hydration
- Monitor your temperature for fever
- Take over-the-counter fever- and pain-relief medication as needed
“You should also seek medical advice,” he says. “Contact your doctor and get tested for both flu and COVID-19, as both can exhibit similar symptoms. Antiviral treatments for flu, which may be prescribed, are effective if taken within 48 hours of symptom onset.”
If you are diagnosed with the flu, the CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (except to get medical care or other necessities). Your fever is only considered truly gone if it goes down without the use of fever-reducing medication.