What to Know About the Flu

Sep. 10, 2020

(Updated August 2023)

With the cooler temperatures and the start of fall comes another season: flu season. 

“People underestimate the potential of the flu. 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. People with underlying medical conditions who get the flu are at increased risk for complications and death.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* (CDC) estimates 5,000 people died from flu-related illness in the U.S. during last year’s flu season. In South Carolina, 188 people died from flu-related illness in the last two years, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control* (DHEC). 

When does flu season start? 

The annual flu season in the U.S. 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. Vaccines like the flu shot are important in protecting people from diseases

Many employers offer on-site flu clinics. DHEC offers a list of flu clinics across South Carolina 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 are sick. Practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and coughing or sneezing into your elbow. You can take these actions to prevent spreading the flu.  

Who is most at risk of complications from the flu? 

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. 

There is at least one way the two diseases are similar. According to Bretous, they are both just as infectious. 

Children will usually have a 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 child’s 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 antiviral 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.  

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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