Published on January 10, 2013

Flu facts, tips and symptoms, plus where can you get a flu shot and where you can find cheap flu shots

Written by Erica Edwards, First Coast News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expect a big jump in influenza numbers. Right now, the flu is widespread in 41 states across the U.S., including Florida.

Here are some lesser-known facts and tips for this flu season:

1) Stay home. Many doctors will tell you to stay home if you aren't feeling well, but some medical experts are even recommending that you don't go see a doctor! Dr. Huson Gilberstadt, an ER doctor with St. Vincent's Medical Center, says if you're in good health and get sick, there is no need to leave the house.

He says emergency rooms and doctors offices are packed and you're better off just staying home. He adds that if you haven't already established a primary care doctor, you might have a tough time getting an appointment when you are sick. However, he says that is where you want to go, not the emergency room.

"You may call and get seen in a week, when you're sick right now," Gilberstadt explains. "But ideally the first place to go is your primary doctor if you feel like you need to be seen. Emergency room, if you're really sick, dizzy, vomiting, dehydrated, may be a more appropriate venue for you, but for the most part, your primary is the best first step."

Dr. Gilberstadt says people who are considered "high risk" - such as children, elderly, pregnant women, or those with weak immune systems - should go see a medical professional if they're sick; otherwise, he says to take some Tylenol or Motrin, keep yourself well hydrated and stay home and rest for a few days.

2) An influenza vaccination does not protect you from all strains of the flu. Gilberstadt says each year the vaccine is different. He says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evaluate which strains are most common and predict what will hit the U.S., and then those are the strains added to the vaccination.

This year, Gilberstadt says there are three different strains in the vaccine. Right now, he says all of the flu cases he's seen have been variations of those three types of influenza, but there is a slight chance you could contract a strain that isn't covered by the shot. That was part of the cause of the 2009 H1N1 epidemic.

3) You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Gilberstadt says there are no live aspects to the shot, so there is no way for anyone to contract the flu from the vaccination. However, doctors say the vaccination can take a few days to take full effect, so it is possible to be exposed to the virus before the vaccine kicks in.

4. There are plenty of places to get the flu shot inexpensively, even for free! Here's a rundown of some of the places you can get vaccinated and the cost:

• Costco - $20
• Walmart - $25
• Winn-Dixie - $25
• Rite-Aid - $28
• Target - $28
• Publix - $20
• CVS - $30
• Walgreens - $32

Each place may offer deals and sales, so these prices can vary.
There are a few other options for finding a reasonably priced, or even free, flu shot:

• Ask your employer - To try and lower the amount of sick days used, some companies offer flu shots at no cost to their employees. Check with the Human Resources department to find out.
• Talk to your insurance company - Under the Affordable Care Act, all insurance plans that were created after March 23, 2010 are required to provide some times of preventative care, including immunizations, for free.
• Check with your doctor - Even if don't think flu shots are covered by your insurance, ask the billing department at your doctor's office to call and find out.

Because of high demand, some places are running out of the vaccination, so you might want to call and make sure that location has it, before you go.

5. There are some pretty big differences between a cold, the flu and strep throat.

• The common cold is caused by a virus, and antibiotics won't help. Symptoms usually include nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing and a sore throat and can last anywhere from 2 to 14 days.
• Streptococcus -- or strep throat --is a bacterial infection and requires antibiotics. Symptoms are typically a fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Unlike a cold or flu, strep throat does not usually produce a cough or a stuffy, runny nose.
• Finally, influenza is also a virus, like a cold, that cannot be treated with antibiotics. If you have the flu, major symptoms include muscle aches, a severe cough that can include chest pain, fatigue and sometimes a sore throat or runny nose. Gilberstadt says a fever typically accompanies the flu, but not always.

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