Family Health

The Flu Is on the Move: How To Keep Your Family Safe With COVID Still Circulating

Published: April 4, 2022

COVID-19 has seemingly dominated our lives since 2020. And as we continue to work our way through the pandemic, it can be easy to forget about other infectious illnesses – like the flu.

With influenza cases and hospitalizations increasing nationwide, it’s more important than ever to arm yourself with accurate information to keep your family safe.

Breaking Down Types and Symptoms

Influenza is a virus that can cause a lot of unpleasant symptoms. There are two types – A and B – and many different strains of the flu.

Influenza A is typically associated with pandemics, frequent viral mutations and severe symptoms. Influenza B is typically mild in severity.

Symptoms of both can include:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever (a temperature higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Headache and body aches
  • Runny nose
  • Sinus congestion
  • Sore throat

These symptoms can start suddenly and become severe within a day. Illness typically lasts seven to 10 days. Most people get over the flu on their own and without any long-term problems. Some people – especially those 65 or older, children younger than 5, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions – may require hospitalization.

The Importance of Testing

Influenza and COVID-19 have nearly identical symptoms, which can make it difficult to tell the difference without a test. Your provider will be able to test you for influenza and COVID-19. I recommend getting tested for both if you have severe symptoms or are at high-risk for viral complications.

At-home COVID-19 testing is accurate at diagnosing COVID – not influenza. And the presence of influenza is not known to alter the results of a COVID-19 test. If your at-home test yields a positive COVID-19 result, chances are likely that’s what you have. But it may be a good idea to get tested at your provider’s office or pharmacy if you’re symptomatic and your at-home test is negative. Rapid at-home tests are associated with a higher likelihood of false negatives as opposed to false positives.

Treatment Options

Treatment for influenza typically involves resting at home, drinking plenty of fluids and taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, decongestants and cough medicine as needed. Be sure to talk with your child’s pediatrician before giving them any medication.

The following home remedies can help with symptoms but won’t decrease the length of illness:

  • Drinking warm broth or herbal tea
  • Gargling with salt water
  • Inhaling/applying certain essential oils
  • Running a humidifier in your bedroom at night
  • Using nasal rinses

Antibiotics are never effective against influenza or COVID-19. In some cases, an antiviral medication – such as Tamiflu or Xofluza – may be prescribed to help shorten the duration of the flu. Keep in mind, most antivirals need to be started within 48 hours of symptom onset to be effective.

The flu vaccine is the most effective preventive treatment against influenza and is customized every year to protect against four strains of influenza. The customization is based on what strains experts believe will be most active during the upcoming flu season.

Flu and COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective at decreasing the severity of illness. This doesn’t mean you’re completely shielded from the virus. You can still become infected, but the vaccine prepares your body to fight it off more effectively.

Keeping Your Family Safe

It’s important to know that influenza can be spread before someone even knows they’re sick. Contagiousness begins one day before symptoms develop and lasts up to a week after becoming sick. People with influenza are most contagious in the first three to five days of illness. The best ways to prevent the spread of influenza are the same precautions we use against COVID-19: Isolate, mask and practice good hand hygiene

If you have questions or are concerned about the severity of your symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider. COVID-19 and influenza can be serious, and complications can develop in otherwise healthy individuals. Get the most accurate information and peace of mind straight from the source. We’re here to help you feel better!

More Resources

About the Author

Bret Elliott, MD, was drawn to medical school after working as a certified nursing assistant and obtaining a neuroscience degree. With his diverse medical background and variety of interests, one reason the Methodist Physicians Clinic provider chose to specialize in family medicine is because it encompasses all systems of medicine.

“I like taking all these different parts and putting them together in one cohesive picture for patients and coordinating their care,” he said.

Dr. Elliott has special interests in neurology, dermatology, sports medicine and addiction medicine. He’s trained in using Soboxone® to treat opioid addictions, and he’s also skilled at performing vasectomies.

See more articles from Bret Elliott, MD
Bret Elliott, MD