What You Need to Know This Cold and Flu Season

Sept. 2, 2021

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Cooler temperatures bring increases in the common cold and flu cases. Even though COVID-19 is still impacting the health care system, there are plenty of things you can do to help prevent illness and stay healthy this year. 

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina’s Dr. Shawn Stinson, senior vice president for Healthcare Innovation and Improvement, answers some common questions to make sure you are prepared this fall and winter.

When does flu season start? 

While it varies year to year, typically the annual flu season in the United States begins in September or October and ends in March or April. (For more details about the flu, read our past blog.) 

What can we expect for this year's flu season? 

A lot will depend on influenza vaccinations (rate and efficacy) as well as persistent COVID-19 mitigation practices, such as hand-washing, social distancing and wearing masks. 

It has been eye-opening to see the impact of these mitigation efforts on flu infections. The impact of the flu was very limited this past year as a result. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control* (DHEC) reported 185 cases in the 2020 – 2021 season compared to 6,725 in the 2019 – 2020 season. 

How can someone prevent the common cold or the flu? 

The flu is spread primarily from respiratory droplets, so the same mitigation efforts that proved to be successful in limiting COVID-19 spread are effective with the flu: covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, hand-washing and social distancing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine. You can find more information about the flu shot and other common vaccines on our blog

For information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, read the CDC’s guidelines

How can I tell if I have a cold, the flu or COVID-19?  

Since the symptoms are very similar, only testing by a medical professional can determine if you have the flu or COVID-19. Given the potential severity of COVID-19 and the flu, experts recommend individuals experiencing symptoms that raise the possibility of either of these diagnoses be tested. Plus, there is effective treatment for the flu and for severe cases of COVID-19. 

*DHEC and the CDC are independent organizations that offer health information you may find helpful.

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