How to protect yourself this flu season

September 7, 2023 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • The seasonal flu is an extremely contagious virus that infects the nose, throat and sometimes lungs.

  • Symptoms of the flu include cough, fatigue, fever and chills, headaches, body aches and sore throat.

  • The best way to protect yourself and your family from flu complications is to get your flu shot.

It’s difficult to think about winter and illness when in most parts of the country, the weather is still nice. But even though it doesn’t feel like flu season, September is actually the best time of the year to think about preventing this potentially serious illness. This is when you should talk to your doctor about getting a flu vaccine, which can protect you and your loved ones from becoming infected.

What is the flu? 

Have you ever heard another adult say they have the flu — right before they head into the bathroom? That probably isn’t influenza — it’s likely viral gastroenteritis, commonly called the “stomach flu.”

The real flu can be much more debilitating. It’s caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes lungs. It spreads through tiny droplets made when people who have the flu cough, sneeze or talk.

What are symptoms of the flu?

Common flu symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat

Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though that is more common among children than adults.

What are complications of the flu?

Most people who get the flu will recover in less than two weeks. But some can develop moderate to severe complications, including:

  • Sinus and ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Sepsis, which is the body’s life-threatening response to the flu

Additionally, the flu can cause some chronic conditions — such as asthma and heart disease — to become much worse.

While the flu is most dangerous for people older than 65, pregnant women, young children and infants, anyone could develop serious complications.

Protect yourself and your family from influenza

The single best thing you can do to protect yourself from the flu is get your flu shot. Influenza vaccines are not 100% effective, but they do significantly lower the risk of getting the flu — and of having severe illness if you do get it.

In addition to getting vaccinated, many of the tactics we practiced to prevent COVID during the worst days of the pandemic also work to protect against the flu:

  • Avoid touching your face
  • Clean and disinfect high-traffic surfaces, like countertops
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Stay away from crowded places
  • Stay in good overall health with diet and exercise
  • Wash your hands (or using sanitizer if washing is not available)
  • Wear a mask

Finally, remember: If you are sick, stay home.

Get vaccinated against the flu

The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for everyone age 6 months and older. Around half of Americans get their flu shot every year, and it’s important to get your shot early — especially before seeing lots of friends and family during the holiday season. Typically, most doctors’ offices and clinics receive their supplies of flu shots in September, so September or October is the ideal time to get vaccinated.

The vaccine, which changes every year, includes the best protection against what are expected to be the most commonly circulating strains of the influenza virus. Because the flu virus changes so quickly, you should get an updated vaccine every year to protect against the newest strains.

It’s a common myth that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. Like the COVID vaccine, you may have muscle aches, soreness, fever or other reactions to the vaccine within a couple of days of receiving it, but this is your immune system at work. It also takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective.

You can get your COVID booster and your flu shot at the same time. Both vaccines are important for everyone, but especially for older adults, who are at high risk for complications.

Visit your local pharmacy, primary care provider or Providence ExpressCare location to receive your flu shot.

“It is so important that as a community we protect ourselves and others from the flu,” said Katherine Bumstead, M.D., medical director of primary care for Providence Medical Group – Northwest Washington. “Wash hands, wear a mask if you are ill, don’t go to work if you are sick, and yes, get a flu vaccine.”

Contributing Caregiver


Katherine Bumstead, M.D., medical director of primary care for Providence Medical Providence Medical Group – Northwest Washington

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Related resources

RSV, flu and COVID

Get your child caught up on their wellness visits

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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