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Influenza viruses become widespread each year beginning as early as mid-fall or as late as mid-spring.
When the flu is widespread, there can be more patients with severe symptoms that need hospitalization and ICU care. This coming year’s influenza season we will also compete with COVID-19.
COVID-19 has already led to far more hospitalizations, ICU care, and death than influenza did for any of the recent past years. We need to be prepared this year for COVID-19 and Influenza.
Both the flu virus and the coronavirus are transmitted by respiratory droplets through coughing, sneezing or speaking.
The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-2-CoV, can cause symptoms that are similar to influenza, but has other features that are unique. COVID-19 can cause any of these symptoms:
So how can we tell the difference between influenza and COVID-19?
The short answer is, the only way to tell is to test for influenza virus and for SARS-2-CoV virus. The long answer is that it depends on how much virus is circulating in the community and other risk factors.
Influenza is more likely when there is a lot of influenza circulating in the community. For example, during March 2020, influenza would have been more likely because there was a lot more people infected with influenza virus in the community than with COVID-19. On the other hand, in April and May 2020, there were few to no patients with influenza, but a lot more people infected with COVID-19.
What are some characteristics of each virus?
COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the flu is caused by infection with an influenza virus.
Why is it more important than ever to get a flu shot this year?
This year is more important than any other year to get the influenza vaccine. While you can still get the flu if you are vaccinated, during most years it provides at least 70% protection from getting the flu.
In past years, if you had the flu and had mild symptoms you did not need to be tested. This year, everyone will need to be tested for COVID-19. The more people that have flu, the more people that will need to be tested for COVID-19. Influenza infections could potentially drain testing resources for COVID-19.
More importantly, the flu shot will decrease your chances of getting severe influenza infection. The more patients that have severe flu and are hospitalized, the more it drains resources to care for patients with severe COVID-19 infection.
The influenza virus and COVID-19 can cause infection together and be more serious than either infection alone. If you get COVID-19 infection, the flu shot will prevent you from getting a more severe co-infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. September and October are good times to get vaccinated. However, as long as influenza viruses are circulating, you can still get vaccinated, even in January or later.
Until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available most of us have no immunity to the virus. The only defense we have is keeping away from others who are infected.
Masks are effective in preventing the spread of SARS-2-COV, as well as influenza and other respiratory viruses. If we do the right things to keep COVID-19 away by wearing masks, washing our hands and keeping physically distant, we may not have to get sick from influenza either.
Flu vaccines are available through your primary care physician. Contact your doctor’s office to schedule your flu shot. Find a doctor.
Our Immediate Care Centers and Walk-In Clinics also offer flu shots. No appointment needed. Walk in any time. Check locations and wait times.
At Edward-Elmhurst Health, your safety and well-being continue to remain our top priority. Learn more about our Safety Commitment.
For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.
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