Healthy Living

Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

13 September 2021

As we turn the corner and move into autumn, we also head into the start of cold and flu season. Although seasonal colds and flu exist year-round in the U.S., these viruses typically begin to increase in the fall and continue to surge over the colder winter months through February or March. The ongoing impact of COVID-19 has added a layer of complexity in the diagnosis and treatment of viruses such as the cold and flu, making it difficult to distinguish the differences in symptoms and when to seek medical treatment.

The following may help you recognize the different viruses and determine what to do if you suspect you may have contracted any of them.

The Common Cold

  • Symptoms: Runny nose, sneezing, and congestion

  • What to do: Most common colds subside within two weeks. If you have a cold, drink plenty of fluids and get as much rest as you can. While the common cold should not impact your daily responsibilities such as work or school, you may want to stay away from others as much as you can to avoid spreading germs.

  • Treatment: Over-the-counter remedies, such as cold medicine and decongestants may be helpful in alleviating symptoms. If you have a chronic health condition and/or take any prescription medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist to see which over-the-counter medications are safe for you.

Influenza (the flu)

  • Symptoms: Fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue

  • What to do: Receiving the annual flu vaccine is an easy way to help prevent catching the flu. If you are a Providence Health Plan member who wants to receive the annual flu shot, we encourage you to speak to your provider or local pharmacy to learn more about receiving one when flu shots are available. You may find a network pharmacy in your area by viewing our online provider directory at If you suspect you have the flu, stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the virus to others. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, call your doctor to determine if you need to receive immediate care.

  • Treatment: For mild cases, plenty of rest and fluids will allow the body to fight the infection on its own. Over-the-counter pain relievers and cold medicine can also help with the discomfort associated with some of the symptoms. For severe cases, your doctor may prescribe you an antiviral medication to help fight the virus. If you have a chronic health condition and/or take any prescription medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist first to see which over-the-counter medications are safe for you.


  • Symptoms: Signs of COVID-19 may initially appear to be similar to symptoms of the common cold or flu, including fever, cough, or tiredness. Other symptoms associated with COVID-19 may include loss of taste and smell, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • Prevention: If you haven’t already received the COVID-19 vaccine and are 6 months and older, consider getting the vaccine, which is available through your provider or pharmacy. This helps prevent you from getting the virus altogether, or from experiencing severe symptoms or hospitalization.

  • What to do if you think you have COVID-19: If you suspect you may have contracted COVID-19, it is important to immediately begin to self-isolate and take a COVID-19 test. COVID-19 tests can detect current COVID-19 infections. Over the counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests, like a nasal swab test, are convenient as they can give you results in a few minutes and can be taken anywhere, not just in a doctor’s office. Follow guidance for what steps to take if you test positive or if you test negative. As changes continue to occur, we encourage members to check in frequently with and for additional information.

  • Treatment: If you test positive for COVID-19 and are more likely to get very sick, there are treatments available at the pharmacy or at your doctor’s office that are available that can reduce your chances of hospitalizations and death. Treatments should be started within days after you first develop symptoms to be effective. If you don’t know if you should receive treatment if you test positive for COVID-19, contact your doctor right away and ask. To find a location that offers testing and treatment or a pharmacy where you can fill your prescription, go to HHS Treatment Locator. For additional information, we encourage members to check in frequently with and for additional information.

Tips for Staying Healthy

  • Importance of Good Hygiene: To help prevent the spread of germs, it is important to practice proper hygiene practices. Washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 30 seconds, not sharing drinks or utensils with others, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and disposing of used tissues, are among the simple yet effective hygiene practices that make a difference in the prevention of spreading germs.

  • Staying Home if You Feel Sick: Cold and flu season can wreak havoc on workplaces, classrooms, and other enclosed areas where people are gathered for a long amount of time. If you, your child, or your family member is exhibiting symptoms such as a fever, congestion, sore throat, or cough, err on the side of caution and stay home until you know for certain if it is a cold, flu, or COVID-19. By doing so, not only will you allow your body to recover, but will prevent the spread of germs potentially infecting others who may be immunocompromised.

  • Get Your Annual Flu Shot: The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu shot each year. The flu shot can be especially important for those who are 65 or more years of age, and people of any age who have certain chronic medical conditions. Having yourself and your family members vaccinated with the flu shot is a safe and effective keep yourselves protected from the virus, while helping to prevent the spread of the flu to others. As with any vaccine, you should discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor.

If you have a child who is heading back to the classroom, read these tips to help them stay healthy all year long.

Visit the and websites for the latest in COVID-19 guidelines and information. Visit for answers to frequently asked questions about the vaccine.

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