Preparing for Cold and Flu Season: Tips for a Nurse

As the days grow colder and longer, flu season approaches. Don’t get caught off guard this year. Follow these tips from Ruth Gallagher, NP-C, PhD, CNE and Director of Nursing Academic Services at Utica College for preparing for cold and flu season and stay healthy.

Preparing for Cold and Flu Season

Why do people confuse the flu with a cold?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In addition, both the cold and flu season start in October, peak around February and continues through March.

How can someone tell the difference between the common cold and a flu?

Although often confused for each other, the cold and flu illnesses are quite different. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. The flu can also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia and hospitalizations.

Common Cold Symptoms

  • Mild aches and pains
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing episode are likely
  • Sore throat
  • Chest discomfort
  • Mild to moderate cough
  • Very little weakness or fatigue
  • Extreme exhaustion not common
  • Fevers are rarely present
  • Headaches are not common


Flu Symptoms

  • High fever that lasts three or four days
  • Really bad headaches
  • Severe aches and pains
  • Weakness and fatigue that lasts for two or three weeks
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Occasional stuffy nose
  • Occasional sneezing episodes
  • Occasional sore throats
  • Severe chest discomfort
  • Severe coughs


How do I Avoid Getting the Flu?

Remember, just like the cold viruses, flu viruses enter your body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes or mouth. Some effective tips that people can follow to prevent acquiring the flue include:

  • Get vaccinated against the flu once every year
  • Cover the nose and mouth when sneezing
  • Wash hands with soap and hot water. If that’s not possible, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • To prevent the spread the germs, avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth
  • Stay away from people infected with the flu as much as possible
  • If you get the flu virus, avoid contact with other people until you have fully recovered
  • Use antiviral medications (if recommended) if you get the flu. Antiviral flu medications may help in reducing the duration of illnesses and prevent the complications associated with it


When Should I See a Physician or go to the Hospital Because of a Flu?

If you have any of these symptoms, you should visit your primary care physician or go to the hospital.

  • Trouble breathing or chest pain
  • Fever that doesn’t get better
  • Can’t drink anything without vomiting
  • Congestion and headaches won’t go away
  • Severe pain when you swallow
  • Cough that doesn’t go away


How Should the Flu be Treated?

According t the Centers for Disease Control, most people with the flu have a mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.

  • Stay home and rest for at least 24 hours, especially while you have a fever
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Stay away from young children, seniors and anyone who is at high risk for complications from the flu
  • Wash your hands, especially after coughing, sneezing or using a tissue
  • Cover you mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, or wear a protective face mask to prevent infecting others


Where Can I Get a Flu Shot?

Preparing for cold and flu season starts with a flu shot. When you get your seasonal flu shots at many pharmacies, healthcare providers and local health department. Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines, but you should check with your insurance provider. Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers are required to cover certain preventative services, like the flu vaccine at no cost to you.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About the Flu Shot?

The most common misconception is that you can get the flu from the vaccine. No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illnesses. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made with “inactivated” viruses and are therefore not infectious. The most common side effects from the influenza shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headaches and muscle aches may also occur.

 

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