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Get a Flu Shot at No Cost

How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu? While the symptoms are similar—fever, body aches, tiredness, and cough—you usually get much sicker with the flu. More than 200,000 Americans end up in the hospital each year as a result of the flu. These simple tips explain how you can prevent the flu and what to do if you get the flu.

How to prevent the flu

  • Get vaccinated every year.
    Everyone who is six months of age and older should get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available. This helps protect you, your family, and the general community. 

    As a BCBSRI member, you can get vaccinated at no cost at your doctor’s office or a participating pharmacy. Find a location.

  • Wash your hands the right way.
    A study by Michigan State University found that only 5 percent of people washed their hands for 15 seconds or more after using the bathroom. That means 95 percent of people didn’t wash long enough to kill the germs that spread the flu, colds, and other diseases—if they washed at all! It’s best to scrub your hands with soap for 15 to 20 seconds, rinse, then dry your hands with a clean towel. When soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.
  • Protect your immune system.
    Take care of your overall health by eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, sleeping at least seven hours each night, and managing stress.
  • Know how long people are contagious.
    People can infect others for up to a day before their symptoms start and five to seven days after they become sick. Children can be contagious for longer than seven days.

What to do if you get the flu

  • Call your doctor if you’re at high risk for complications.
    Antiviral drugs can be used for people at high risk for flu complications, including children younger than 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma. These drugs can mean the difference between having a mild case of the flu and having a more serious case. Call your doctor early on, because antivirals should be given within 48 hours of getting the flu.
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow or sleeve (or use a tissue).
    This helps keep the flu virus off your hands. People with flu can spread it up to six feet away by sneezing, coughing, or even talking. These airborne germs can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. A person can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
    Since the flu often results in a fever and sometimes a sore throat, becoming dehydrated is a serious risk of the flu. This is particularly true for young children.
  • Stay home until symptoms are gone for 24 hours.
    Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medication. This is required by many schools and workplaces. You should also stay out of public places unless it’s absolutely necessary (for example, going to the doctor or pharmacy). If you have a cold or the flu, avoid visiting others who may be more at risk for complications, such as the elderly.

When to seek emergency medical care

These warning signs indicate that you (or someone you’re caring for) need emergency care.

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids (in young children)
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

In adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Confusion