With this flu season becoming the deadliest in years — and on track to continue well into May — it’s important to understand and prepare against the infection.
Dr. Travis Stork, an ER physician, host of The Doctors and a member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, is here to answer every question about this year’s flu epidemic.
First of all, for anyone who still hasn’t had the flu shot, there is still time.
“It’s not too late,” Dr. Stork tells PEOPLE. “The flu is still circulating and a flu shot can help protect you through the end of the season; but in general, the earlier you get the flu shot during flu season, the better.”
But if you’ve already had it and are considering another round as an extra precaution, don’t bother.
“The CDC has done studies on this and there is no benefit to most adults getting more than one dose of vaccine during the same flu season,” he says. “This is true even amongst those with weakened immune systems. Except for some children, one dose of flu vaccine is recommended for most per season.”
Instead, focus on other preventive measures, like skipping handshakes and hugs (“During cold and flu season it’s not rude!” Dr. Stork reassures), washing your hands often with soap and water, and regularly disinfecting phones, keyboards and door handles. He also advises being extra focused on getting enough sleep, staying active and eating well.
If you do start to get flu-like symptoms — a cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever, muscle and body aches, headaches — and are unsure if it’s a cold or something more severe, Dr. Stork recommends going to see a doctor if you’re concerned.
“Colds and flu can initially have a lot of the same symptoms so it can be difficult to tell them apart at first,” he says. “If you’re worried, it’s always best to be evaluated.”
And if you do get the flu, take precautions to ensure it doesn’t turn into pneumonia.
“Respiratory viruses like influenza are responsible for about one third of all pneumonia cases,” Dr. Stork says. “To keep the flu from escalating, there are a few simple things you can do. First, don’t smoke — smokers are much more likely to get pneumonia, because their lung function is impaired by tobacco. Second, if you haven’t already, get vaccinated. A flu shot can protect you against getting the flu but if you do get the flu, it can help prevent influenza-related complications like pneumonia. And finally, if you are worried you’re at risk for complications, discuss with your doctor about whether you are a good candidate for antiviral medication.”