Healthy Living

When to Get Your Flu Shot and Symptoms to Look for

Nov. 20, 2023

Bad news: According to UR Medicine Infectious Disease specialist Angela Branche, MD, it looks like we could have a lot more cases of the flu this year compared to the last three years.

The extra precautions people took during the pandemic meant fewer people got the flu, which probably lowered our overall immunity.

But there’s also good news: Getting your flu shot is the best way to prevent serious illness and keep you and your loved ones out of the hospital. The flu in the Rochester area is expected to peak in late December to early January. So, it’s a good idea to get your flu shot now, so you build up your immunity for the peak.

Even better news: It’s safe to get two vaccines at the same time. So, you can get your COVID boosters or RSV vaccine at the same time.

If you’re getting all three, Branche recommends getting two, waiting a few weeks, then getting the third. It’s recommended you get one in each arm. (A reminder that the RSV vaccine is only for people over the age of 60, or pregnant mothers.)

How to tell if symptoms are flu, a cold, or COVID?

Flu symptoms can include:

  • Cough (often severe)
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Fatigue for several weeks
  • Sudden onset of high fever
  • Chills and sweats
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose (more common in adults)
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (more common in children)

A key difference with the common cold: If there’s a fever at all, it usually comes on gradually and tends to be mild.

Two key COVID symptoms that aren’t usually associated with the flu are shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and loss of taste or smell. But some of the main symptoms, such as coughing and a runny nose, do overlap, so it’s a good idea to talk to your primary care doctor about your symptoms.

Other Ways to Avoid Getting the Flu

The flu is an easily spread virus, usually passed when an infected person coughs or sneezes. So, wash your hands frequently and consider wearing a mask in crowded settings if you’re older or have a medical condition that may affect your immune system. Branche reminds us that flu cases can continue into the spring, so it’s never too late to get your flu shot! 

How to Treat the Flu

If you think you have the flu or another respiratory virus, contact your primary care doctor to see if you need an antiviral medication. It can decrease the length of time you’re sick. You can visit our Get Care Now website for help. But don’t wait too long—antiviral medications work better the earlier they’re taken.

At home, you can take Tylenol to feel better. And be sure to drink plenty of water and get rest.

Find your flu shot at