Protecting yourself from a double whammy of flu and COVID-19

September 20, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

With the flu season around the corner and COVID-19 still spreading, it is important to be prepared for both—and know what you can do to protect yourself against infection.

COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory illnesses and have similar symptoms, making it difficult to diagnosis which illness you have. Some of the symptoms they share include cough, fever, congestion, shortness of breath, muscle aches, chills, nausea or vomiting, headache and sore throat.

“There’s no way to differentiate between COVID-19 and the flu because many of the symptoms overlap,” says Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control at Edward Hospital. “The best way to differentiate between the two is to get tested.”

COVID-19 restrictions, such as social distancing, mandated facial coverings and limitations on indoor gatherings, contributed to a relatively mild flu season in 2020-21. Though the outlook for the 2021-22 flu season is unclear, continued COVID-19 restrictions could mean a mild flu season for the Chicago area as those same precautions help prevent the spread of the flu.

But you should still be prepared and get vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19.

It is possible to have the flu with COVID-19, Dr. Pinsky says, adding that a double whammy of flu and COVID can create serious health risks.

  • Flu vaccine: Getting a flu shot can help lower your chance for flu this season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends flu vaccines for anyone 6 months or older. Flu vaccines are available at your physician’s office and through most pharmacies.
  • COVID-19 vaccine: If you haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19, it is important that you get your shot. The COVID-19 vaccine is available for anyone age 12 or older. Vaccines may not prevent you from getting exposed to the virus. However, they do provide immunity that can clear the virus, making it less likely you’ll get infected. The COVID-19 vaccine also greatly reduces the chance of severe illness requiring hospitalization or resulting in death.

If you haven’t already been vaccinated against COVID-19 you may get your COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time, according to CDC guidance.

Because COVID-19 and flu symptoms are so similar, getting vaccinated against the flu this year has the added benefit of decreasing your chances of getting the flu and having to get tested to rule out COVID-19, Dr. Pinsky says.

In addition to vaccinations, you can take the following steps to help prevent the spread of the flu or COVID-19:

  • Wear a facial covering when out in public and avoid large gatherings when possible.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • Wipe down frequently used surfaces.
  • Wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer when you are not able to wash your hands.
  • Stay home when you feel ill.
  • Follow other healthy lifestyle practices, including eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep and getting regular exercise.

If you feel ill or are experiencing any of the symptoms of flu or COVID-19, contact your physician’s office to determine next steps.

Edward-Elmhurst Health has COVID-19 vaccine appointments available to ages 12 and older. It is easy to schedule a vaccine appointment. You do not need a MyChart account. Schedule your COVID-19 vaccine now.

Flu vaccines are available through your primary care physician. Contact your doctor’s office to schedule your flu shot. Find a doctor.

Our walk-in locations also offer flu shots. No appointment needed. Walk in any time. Find a walk-in location near you.

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