Written by Ambulatory Services Director Jen Storch
Here on the Suncoast, winter doesn’t bring snow, but it does bring seasonal sicknesses like cold and flu.
Want to stay healthy this season? Here’s what you need to know to beat colds and flu.
Symptoms: Colds vs. Flu
Colds and influenza (flu) are both viral illnesses and often have similar symptoms. Flu symptoms begin very abruptly and typically are more severe than cold symptoms. Influenza comes with a fever, fatigue and chills, and it can lead to more serious complications like pneumonia and hospitalization. Colds usually have a shorter duration and aren’t associated with any serious complications.
Flu / Cold Prevention
The best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu is to get the flu shot, but it can take up to 2 weeks after vaccination to develop antibodies and there’s no vaccination for colds.
To prevent catching and spreading illness, take these easy steps:
1. Wash your hands, often. And keep hand sanitizer handy for those time you can’t get to soap and water.
2. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your arm, not your hands, and always wash your hands or use sanitizer afterward.
3. Stay home when you’re sick. With the flu, it’s recommended that you stay home until you are fever-free for 24 hours, without the aid of fever-reducing medications.
4. Get the flu shot. Vaccination should ideally be completed by the end of October, but as long as influenza is circulating, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot, but some people can have minor reactions to the vaccine, including tenderness/redness at the injection site, low fever or mild sore throat; symptoms are very mild and last only a day or two.
Annual Flu Shots
Each year, new vaccines are formulated to protect against the strains of influenza that are circulating at that time. That’s why it’s important for everyone older than 6 months to get a new flu shot each October.
Who should get the flu shot? The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated for flu, unless they have contraindications. The flu shot is highly recommended for anyone who is at high risk of complications from the flu and for their caregivers.
Where can I get vaccinated? There are a few different formulations of the 2018 vaccine. To get the pediatric vaccine, visit a Sarasota Memorial Urgent Care Center or pediatrician. The SMH Urgent Care Centers and some pharmacies also stock the vaccine for ages 3 years to adult. Adults and children also can get flu shots at the Sarasota Health Department and some area public schools.
What is the “high-dose” flu shot? The CDC recommends a “high-dose” vaccine for ages 65-plus and for immunocompromised patients. This vaccine creates a stronger immune response to better protect this higher-risk group.
Since neither cold nor flu are caused by bacterial infection, antibiotics won’t help. Instead, medications such as steroids or antivirals are prescribed to help fight the viral infections, and other medications can help ease they symptoms of cold or flu.
If you get a mild case of cold or flu, you may not need medical treatment at all. However, visiting an urgent care or your primary care doctor is recommended to receive a proper diagnosis and prescriptions for medication that can help alleviate your symptoms, when warranted.
If you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant, be sure to visit your doctor or an urgent care center during the early stage of an illness. If you have emergency symptoms of flu—difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion—seek treatment immediately in an emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Timesaver Tip: Need to get a flu shot or see a doctor for cold or flu symptoms? Check in online or download the SMH Urgent Care app to save time and skip the ‘hurry up and wait’ game.
As director of Ambulatory Services, Jen Storch oversees the daily operations of many of Sarasota Memorial’s ambulatory campuses, including its six urgent care centers, outpatient care centers and the Ringling College Student Health Care Center. A native of Florida, Jen received a Bachelor of Science in Management and a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from the University of Florida.