Avoiding flu this season

  • Published
  • By Greg Chadwick, Air Force Materiel Command Health & Wellness Team
  • Air Force Materiel Command

With the change of seasons comes a renewed focus on the flu and ways we can protect ourselves against infection.

There are many circumstances you and your family can be exposed to the flu virus. School, daycare, travel, work, and public places like stores, restaurants, airports, and fitness centers are germ-charged environments that facilitate the spread of the flu.

Learn how to reduce your risk of getting the flu.

What is the flu?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.

How does the flu spread?

The influenza virus spreads from direct or indirect contact with someone else who’s infected. Common ways to get the flu include:

  • From someone nearby coughing, sneezing, or talking. Droplets can either get onto your hands or move through the air to get into your nose or mouth. The flu then moves into your lungs.
  • By touching a surface that is contaminated by the flu virus, then touching your face, nose, mouth, or eyes. This includes things like doorknobs, desks, computers, and phones.
  • By touching the hands or face of someone who has the flu, then touching your face, nose, mouth, or eyes.

When is flu season?

Flu season — when cases of the flu go up dramatically — in the U.S. is October through May. The highest number of cases usually happen between December and February.

What are symptoms of the flu?

  • Fever.
  • Chills and sweats.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Cough.
  • Headache.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Tiredness or feeling run down.
  • Eye pain.

You may not have all of these symptoms.

What can I expect if I have the flu?

Most people are able to manage flu symptoms at home and recover within a few days to a week. Because it can cause severe illness, it’s important to keep an eye on your symptoms and get medical attention if you need it. This is especially important if you have an underlying health condition. If you are sick with the flu, you should avoid being around others, except to seek medical care.

When should I go to the Emergency Room or seek immediate medical attention?

Go to the ER or seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms of severe illness, including:

  • High fever (over 103 °F/40 °C).
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Not urinating or urinating very little.
  • Pain in your chest or stomach (abdomen) that doesn’t go away.
  • Persistent dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Severe muscle pain or weakness.
  • Seizures.
  • Bluish skin, lips or nails (cyanosis, which can be a sign of low oxygen levels in your blood or tissues).
  • Fever or cough that gets better or goes away but then gets worse.
  • Worsening of other health conditions.

When can I go back to work/school?

To avoid spreading the flu to others, you shouldn’t go back to work or school until it’s been at least 24 hours since you’ve had a fever (without taking fever-reducing medications). Your employer or school may have different requirements for returning.

How do I know if I have the flu or COVID-19?

Since they have similar symptoms, the only way to know for sure if you have the flu or COVID-19 is to get tested. They both have a risk of serious illness. But different viruses cause these infections, and providers treat them with different medications.

How can I prevent the flu?

“The best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine,” said Lt. Col. Michael Renkas, AFMC Command Public Health Officer. “Should you catch the flu, an annual flu vaccine can prime your immune system to help reduce the amount of time you are ill and possibly lessen the severity of your illness. Therefore, an annual flu vaccine can limit the amount of time you are infectious and the potential to infect others. Using several data sources and studies, to include DoD surveillance data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends which influenza viruses are included in annual flu vaccines. Most flu vaccines are quadrivalent, meaning they are designed to increase your protection from four distinct flu viruses.”

He advises to speak with your medical provider if you have questions, are pregnant or have other underlying health conditions, and get the flu vaccine before the holidays to strengthen immunity in time to celebrate with your coworkers and family. Getting a flu vaccination in September or October allows for adequate time to develop enough antibodies, which can take up to two weeks, to provide protection throughout the flu season.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

Influenza vaccinations for all military members are a mandatory requirement, and available through each installation’s Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) or at any participating TRICARE eligible pharmacies. To ensure records are updated accordingly, military members must provide their servicing MTF documentation of any vaccination not administered and recorded by a MTF.

TRICARE beneficiaries are also eligible for flu shots through immunization clinics on base, or at no cost at TRICARE eligible pharmacies. For the civilian workforce, all Federal Employee Health Benefit plans cover flu shots at no cost for members and are available at local retail pharmacies.

You can find a flu vaccine location through vaccines.gov.

Go to:  https://www.vaccines.gov/

-Select "Find Flu Vaccines" at the top of the page

-Enter your 5-digit zip code

-Check your "Vaccine Options”

-Select "Search for Flu Vaccines" to find a preferred location

(Click on the location for further details and contact information)

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, there are many everyday preventive measures which can reduce your risk of getting the flu. These actions include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk.
  • Avoid being around other people when you or they are sick with the flu or other infectious diseases.
  • If you become ill, get tested! This can rule-in or rule-out other respiratory viruses such as COVID, pneumonia or Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with viruses that cause the flu at home and work.
  • Avoid large crowds. If you are able to limit contact with people during flu season, you can reduce your risk of getting an infection.
  • Strengthen your immune system. A strong immune system helps your body fight off infections. To build your immunity, sleep at least 7-9 hours per night. Also, maintain a regular physical activity routine-at least 30 minutes, three times a week. In addition, follow a healthy, nutrient-rich eating plan. Limit sugar, junk foods, and fatty foods. Instead, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, which are full of vitamins and antioxidants, to promote good health.


Extensive seasonal flu resources are made available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention