Health officials are sounding the alarm about the coming flu season because they’re concerned about the potential of having both COVID-19 and influenza -- each with serious and sometimes deadly complications -- circulating at the same time.
First some good news. You can help protect yourself from flu with a flu shot. It’s safe and provides the best means of protecting yourself and those around you. Health experts are urging the public to get a flu shot as soon as possible because October is when flu season typically begins. Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks to develop the antibodies which provide protection against flu.
There is as yet no vaccination for COVID-19. But the social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizing we do to protect ourselves from COVID-19 may also help slow the spread of flu, and that’s more good news.
The difficulty ahead is that it’s hard to tell to tell the difference between COVID-19 and flu without being tested because the symptoms overlap. Both flu and COVID-19 can cause fever, aches, fatigue, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose and shortness of breath. Stomach upset and diarrhea are less common but can also occur. COVID-19 can sometimes cause loss of taste and smell.
If you have any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider to determine if you need diagnostic testing and next steps to take. Early diagnosis is essential because prompt antiviral treatment of flu can greatly decrease complications and speed your recovery. Early diagnosis of COVID-19 is also essential for proper treatment and so you can quarantine and close contacts can self-isolate.
It’s also unknown how flu and COVID-19 may interact. Both viruses can cause dangerous inflammation in the lungs that can fill the airspaces with fluid, making it difficult to breathe and resulting in pneumonia. There’s still much that to learn about the COVID-19 virus and how it might interact with influenza. What is known is that a flu shot decreases your likelihood of getting the flu virus.
“In previous years, many people would treat influenza-like symptoms with pain relievers and fever medications, and still go to work or school,” David Quimby, MD, infectious diseases physician at CHI Health said. “This year, it is not recommended to do this. People with flu-like symptoms are recommended to get tested for flu or COVID-19 because the potential of exposing others to COVID-19 will prolong the pandemic and the need for social distancing and isolation.”
So while flu symptoms might have simply sent you to bed for a few days in the past, this year it’s imperative to get a flu shot, contact your health care provider if you have flu or COVID-19 symptoms -- and take the next steps to protect yourself and those around you.