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Sep. 10, 2020

With the cooler temperatures and the start of fall comes another season — flu season. With COVID-19 in the front of everyone’s mind, here’s what you should know about this year’s flu season. 

“People underestimate the potential of the flu every year. It kills people every year,” says Dr. Lena Bretous, a medical director with BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. “People think it is harmless. It is not just this two-week inconvenience.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* (CDC) estimates between October 2019 and April 2020, 24,000 to 62,000 people died from flu-related illness in the U.S. In South Carolina, 139 people died from flu-related illness during the 2019 – 2020 season, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control* (S.C. DHEC). 

When does flu season start? 

The annual flu season in the United States typically runs from September or October to March or April. It usually peaks in December and then again in the late spring. 

What should I do to keep from getting the flu?

Start by getting a flu shot. The flu shot is safe for everyone over the age of 6 months. 

“The best chance of avoiding the flu is getting a flu shot,” Bretous says. 

The flu shot provides protection for six months. The CDC recommends getting a flu shot before the end of October. For more about the flu shot, read our recent blog post on vaccines. Many employers offer onsite flu clinics. S.C. DHEC offers a list of flu clinics across the state on its website

Many of our members are eligible for no-cost flu shots. Coverage may be through your preventive care or pharmacy benefits. 

Stay home if you're sick. Practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and coughing or sneezing into your elbow. More ways to prevent spreading the flu can be found on the CDC website

Who is most at risk of complications from the flu? 

Like with COVID-19, people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for complications from the flu. Children under the age of 2 and those over 65 are also most likely to have issues related to the flu. 

The flu can be much harder for children and babies, though, because they do not have the ability to fight off the infection as well as adults, Bretous says. 

What will the flu season look like this year? 

We can’t really know what the flu season will be like this year, Bretous says. However, there will likely be a lot of confusion between COVID-19 symptoms and flu symptoms. Knowing the differences will be important, she says. 

With the flu, muscle aches and pains are severe, she says. The flu typically causes a sudden fever and severe chest discomfort. 

One of the biggest differences is the change in sense of taste and smell that comes with COVID-19. For details about what you should do if you think you are sick, read our recent blog on COVID-19 symptoms.

One way the two diseases are similar — they are both just as infectious, she says. 

Children will usually have a very high fever and difficulty breathing. If your child isn’t acting like himself or herself, trust your instinct, Bretous says. Err on the side of caution if you are concerned. Your pediatrician would want you to call immediately if you are concerned that your child has the flu or COVID-19.

Is there treatment for the flu? 

There are anti-viral medications that can shorten the length and severity of the flu if given early enough. These medicines also can prevent complications from the flu. You should seek care immediately if you think you have the flu, according to the CDC.  

Find more information about this year’s flu on the CDC’s website.

*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control are independent organizations that provide health information you may find helpful.

This article contains links to third party sites. Those organizations are solely responsible for the contents and privacy policies of those sites.

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