Things are uncertain right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, with cases on the rise again due to the Delta variant. But COVID-19 isn’t the only virus to think about in the coming months. Influenza (also known as the flu) is alive and well, and will be back as flu season—roughly October through March—gets underway. Though it generally leads to less severe illness than COVID-19, the flu can be serious and even fatal, especially for the elderly, infants, and people who are immunocompromised.
This year we may see a more typical flu season.
The 2020-2021 flu season was much milder than usual, probably due in part to the measures people took to prevent COVID-19: masking, social distancing, working and learning remotely, handwashing, and traveling less.1 This year, however, with many aspects of life having gone “back to normal,” we may see a more typical flu season.
Here are four key tips for staying healthy during flu season, including what to do if you’re not sure if you have COVID-19 or the flu (or both—it’s possible!).
1. Get the flu vaccine
The flu vaccine provides protection against the most common strains of flu and is generally available starting in August or September. You can get the vaccine from your primary care provider, at public flu clinics, and at many pharmacies, on a walk-in basis. The flu vaccine is typically covered by insurance. If you have children, ask your pediatrician if they should get vaccinated too.
2. Take preventive measures
Many of the best ways to avoid getting or spreading the flu are the same habits you’ve probably been practicing throughout the pandemic to avoid getting COVID-19: Frequent handwashing, avoiding close contact with others who are sick, coughing or sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand, and avoiding touching your face. If you’re wearing a mask to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, you’ll be helping prevent the spread of flu at the same time.
You can get the vaccine from your primary care provider, at public flu clinics, and at many pharmacies.
3. If you feel sick, get tested
COVID-19 and influenza have some similar symptoms, including fever, chills, aches, sore throat, and headache. If you have these symptoms, it’s important to get tested to find out which virus you have. Your PCP or an urgent care clinic can provide both COVID-19 and flu tests. If you have the flu, your doctor may be able to prescribe an antiviral drug to help with your symptoms. If you have COVID-19, you should follow quarantine procedures, and let anyone you’ve had recent close contact with know that you tested positive.
4. Know where to go for care
If you’re experiencing flu symptoms, your best bet is to contact your PCP, who can evaluate whether any kind of medical treatment is necessary and advise you on ways to minimize your discomfort. They may suggest using telehealth, which allows you to talk to a provider without having to leave your home or risk getting others sick. Most members of Tufts Health Plan commercial plans have access to Telehealth Virtual Care provided by Teladoc®.² Visiting an urgent care clinic is also an option. If you are having trouble breathing, however, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately.
At Tufts Health Plan, we’re committed to helping our members stay healthy and get the quality health care they need all year long. We’re here to help connect you with resources, information, and assistance in finding providers, this flu season and beyond.