Your Flu Questions, Answered | The Emergency Center

Your Flu Questions, Answered

Flu season is in full swing. Make sure you’re armed with the information you need to protect yourself from getting sick.

What’s the difference between the flu and a cold?

Both can share some similar symptoms—stuffy nose, cough, fatigue, and headaches—but flu more frequently comes with a fever (often higher than 102ºF), chills and sweating, and muscle aches.

Another big difference is that flu symptoms come on suddenly while cold symptoms usually develop over a few days. Flu symptoms are also generally more severe than cold symptoms.

What’s the difference between the flu and stomach flu?

Both the flu and “stomach flu” are viruses, but the similarities pretty much end there.

The “stomach flu” is another name for viral gastroenteritis, an infection that actually affects the intestines, not the stomach. It’s most commonly caused by the highly contagious norovirus.

The flu virus is a respiratory infection that affects the lungs. Both the flu and viral gastroenteritis can cause vomiting and diarrhea. But with the flu, children are more likely than adults to experience these symptoms. Viral gastroenteritis also causes abdominal pain or cramping, which aren’t common symptoms of the flu.

How is the flu vaccine made?

Each February, representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and four other international medical research and public health organizations decide which flu viruses will be most common in the upcoming flu season. They use this information to determine which viruses the vaccine should protect against. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration uses these recommendations to determine the composition of the flu vaccine available in the United States.

The flu vaccine contains viruses that are similar to, and should offer defense from, the viruses predicted to circulate during flu season. Private companies grow viruses for the vaccine, usually well in advance of flu season, because the vaccine takes months to produce.

Many manufacturers use an egg-based process to produce the vaccine, but the CDC notes that severe, anaphylactic reactions in people with egg allergies are very rare. Nevertheless, the CDC recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions to eggs get the flu vaccine from their doctor or other healthcare facility where they can be monitored.

Is it possible to get the flu despite being vaccinated?

Yes. You can get the flu shortly after vaccination—before the vaccine can take effect—or become infected with a flu virus the vaccine wasn’t designed to protect against.

The flu vaccine’s effectiveness varies from year to year, but it can help blunt the severity of the flu if you get infected. Plus, any protection from the flu can limit the chances of serious complications, such as pneumonia. That’s why the CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months get vaccinated.

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

See your physician if you have fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches, or fatigue. You may benefit from a prescription antiviral medication if flu is the diagnosis.

Once you’re home, rest and take your medication as prescribed. Don’t go back to work or school until the fever or other symptoms disappear.

Because flu complications can be severe, visit The Emergency Center if you have:

  • chest or stomach pain
  • confusion
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • violent or frequent vomiting
  • worsening cough
How is the flu treated?

A virus—not bacteria—causes the flu. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication, instead of an antibiotic, which is effective only against bacteria. Here, Eric Wilke, MD, co-founder of The Emergency Center, explains why taking antibiotics unnecessarily can lead to adverse side effects.

Learn more from The Emergency Center about the flu.

Sources: familydoctor.orgniddk.nih.govcdc.gov, cdc.govcdc.gov