By this point, we are hyper-aware of how viruses can uproot our sense of normalcy. COVID-19 and its variants have had many of us longing for the “good ol’ days,” when terms like “social distancing” were not in our vernacular and masks were just worn once a year during spooky season. However, while this virus and its effects on our way of living have created a “new normal,” there was and still is influenza, more commonly known as the flu, another highly contagious respiratory virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season, with a range of between 3% and 11%, depending on the season.” The impact of flu on our lives can depend on a variety of factors, including if you are at higher risk due to other chronic health conditions, or if you’re 65 years or older or under 5 years old. Its risks of contagion can also be reduced with preventative methods similar to our current mitigation strategies for COVID. The silver lining is that there is a vaccine currently available for both viruses to provide protection against the flu and COVID-19 for adults and children of certain ages. However, with the convergence of both COVID-19 and the flu season this year, parents may feel an extra bit anxious and overwhelmed on how to protect their kids from being infected by either virus.
With the convergence of both COVID-19 and the flu season this year, parents may feel an extra bit anxious and overwhelmed on how to protect their kids from being infected by either virus.
To continue to support the well-being of our readers and their families, we’ve partnered with GoodRx to provide you with an additional valuable resource to equip you with the tools and information you need to keep your families healthy during this flu/COVID season. GoodRx is an online resource that “helps people get the healthcare they need at a price they can afford.” With the astronomical price of health insurance and the cost of prescription drugs, GoodRx is your go-to for finding quality care and information at prices you can afford.
GoodRx recently launched an online health resource, GoodRx Health, that provides a reliable source of information for parents looking for details on the common cold and flu, including everything from symptoms, doctor-approved tips, the best over-the-counter medicines, and much more.
With what we’re hearing about the probability of flu spreading more easily this winter, avoid the Google black hole and instead use GoodRx to research the best ways to keep you and your family healthy this flu season. They have a dedicated team of doctors, pharmacists, and health care experts that dive into medical research and scientific literature to address common health questions and deliver answers in a way that is easy to understand. At the click of a button, you can feel informed and at ease during these uncertain times with a pandemic and the seasonal epidemic.
We know The Everymoms are busy moms, so we interviewed Dr. Preeti Parikh, Executive Medical Director at GoodRx and a practicing board-certified pediatrician, to ask her how we can protect our families from the effects of the flu.
In addition to her role at GoodRx, Dr. Parikh is a mom to twins, sees patients at Westside Pediatrics, is an assistant clinical professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and is an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. We asked Dr. Parikh as mask mandates drop, kids continue to get vaccinated, and people start resuming holiday travel and in-person gatherings, what can we do to keep our kids and families healthy during this flu-plus-COVID season?
The Flu Defined
The CDC states, “Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs.” Adults 65 and older, individuals with chronic health conditions, and children 5 and younger are at a higher risk of serious flu complications. There are two types of flu viruses, Types A and B, which commonly affect us every year. The flu can cause mild to severe illness and, in some cases, death. According to the CDC, “Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.”
Of course, with the prevalence of COVID-19, everything is more complicated. You can see the symptom and contagion parallels between both viruses, which can make it tricky to self-diagnose based on symptoms alone. Utilizing the resources available through GoodRx Health when trying to gather information on both the flu and COVID-19 can prove effective.
Can we expect this cold and flu season to be more intense than previous years?
“We can’t be sure if this year’s cold and flu season will be worse than previous years, but there is some concern after last year’s record lows,” Dr. Parikh said. “Due to the mitigation efforts of COVID-19, including masking, socially distancing, and limiting gatherings to small groups, people’s natural immunity has waned. Typically, natural immunity on top of vaccines is what gives us the strongest fight against these viruses, so it is possible this flu season will be more intense, making it even more critical for everyone to get their flu vaccines.”
How long does the cold and flu season last? From when to when?
“In the United States, the flu season usually starts in October and ends in May,” she said.
Can the cold weather really give a kid a cold?
“It is not the cold weather that gives a child a cold—it is the viruses themselves,” Dr. Parikh said. “We may see more cases of the cold and flu during the winter months, as some studies suggest that viruses survive longer in cold weather. Also, when it’s cold outside, children play more indoors, which promotes spreading germs to each other.”
If you type in “sneezing” or “fever” in any online search engine, you’re going to get a scary list of potential diagnoses that send you on a downward spiral to mommy panic land. Rather than go down that dark path that produces doom-and-gloom results from a random search engine, always consult with your physician for medical advice. Additionally, you can check GoodRx Health for symptoms of the flu, which usually come on more quickly than the common cold and can include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Chest congestion and cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Potential vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children)
What are the differences between cold, flu, or COVID symptoms?
“It is difficult to tell the difference between a cold, the flu, or even COVID since they can present similar symptoms,” Dr. Parikh said. “However, we do have diagnostic tests that can be used to distinguish between the cold, flu, and COVID. Therefore, it is important to reach out to your health care provider for next steps if you or your child have symptoms.”
Having your child sick is never an easy thing to experience. It doesn’t matter how many kids you have or how old they are—it’s scary to see our children sick, especially during a pandemic. Having a variety of medical resources to aid in your treatment options can help ease some of the mommy worries. Once you get a diagnosis from a medical professional, there are several treatment options to ease the flu symptoms your child may be experiencing. Always consult with your doctor first before any treatment.
GoodRx Health has several articles on flu treatment options, including ways to treat the flu naturally at home. Additionally, if your child is needing prescription medication and/or over-the-counter medication to treat flu symptoms, you can use GoodRx to find low prices on medications near you. Please note that some of these resources are not specific to pediatrics, so always consult with your pediatrician before proceeding with any treatment options for your children.
What can parents do to help shorten the duration of symptoms for children?
“The best thing parents can do to help shorten the duration of symptoms and the severity of the flu is vaccinate their children,” Dr. Parikh said. “Also, within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, you can talk to your doctor about a prescription for an antiviral medication that will help shorten the duration and ease the severity of symptoms.”
Cold and Flu Prevention
None of us want our children to get sick. Although it is inevitable at some point, there are ways to use preventative measures to avoid illness as much as possible. Luckily, there is a flu vaccine for children 6 months and older to provide the strongest form of prevention against the flu. The flu, much like COVID-19, spreads easily through close contact via air droplets. The CDC recommends regular hand-washing, avoiding people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as effective ways to help slow the spread of germs that can cause the flu.
GoodRx Health also has a variety of information to help prevent the onset of flu. They recommend the best prevention is the annual flu vaccine. To better inform you on what the flu vaccine is, they have provided a guide to flu vaccines written by medical professionals.
What are some good habits to develop during the cold and flu season?
According to Dr. Parikh, some good habits to follow to keep yourself healthy this cold and flu season include:
- Get vaccinated with the flu vaccine.
- Stay home if you are sick and stay away from those who are sick.
- Wash your hands and follow good hand hygiene. Sneeze and cough in a tissue or in your elbow, not in your hands.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching contaminated surfaces.
- Take care of yourself with good sleep, exercise, and eating healthy.
“To stay safe during in-person holiday and family gatherings this year, you should stay home if you are sick and ask others to stay home if they exhibit symptoms,” Dr. Parikh said. “Everyone who is eligible should be up to date with their vaccines and should practice proper hand hygiene.”
Are there any practical tips parents can take to help boost their children’s immune system?
“I always tell parents to keep their children up to date with their vaccines and practice healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, exercising, and following a healthy diet. These are the best things you can do for your kids to boost their immunity and keep them healthy,” Dr. Parikh said.
Would you recommend adding extra supplements during the winter months to help with the cold and flu season?
“The best thing to do for your child is to give them a well-balanced, healthy diet to hit their nutrient needs. You can also give your child a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU since it can be difficult to get enough from diet alone,” Dr. Parikh said. “However, aside from a common vitamin D supplement, we typically avoid giving children supplements since it can cause more harm than good.”
Is there an optimal window to get the flu shot (for kids and adults), and if you miss that window, is it still worth getting?
“The optimal window to get the vaccine is between September and October since it takes two weeks for the vaccine to kick in and there are usually lower rates of the flu during this time. However, the goal is to get the vaccine, so please, even past these months, get it as soon as you can since flu season lasts until May,” Dr. Parikh saidv.
Do masks help with the spread of the cold and flu as well?
“The cold and flu are spread by airborne droplets, so by wearing a mask, you help decrease the transmission to others. However, the best thing to do is stay home and not be around other people if you have the flu or a cold,” Dr. Parikh said.
We hope we have provided you with resources and information to ease some of your concerns during this flu-plus-pandemic season. Whether you are trying to navigate symptoms, select the best treatment options, or learn ways to stay healthy, GoodRx Health can provide the answers to your most important questions. Be safe and be well, and together, we can keep our families healthy.
This post was in partnership with GoodRx but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.