The Flu or COVID-19? How to Know

The Better Health Advisors team has compiled a list of questions and answers to alleviate concerns you may have during these uncertain times.

COVID-19 has been in the spotlight for the past six months, but as fall approaches, there’s another factor to consider: flu season. We can limit the spread of both viruses by staying home when sick and limiting our contact with others. The Better Health Advisors team has compiled a list of questions and answers to alleviate concerns you may have during these uncertain times: 

What do I need to know about the flu? 

  • The flu is a respiratory illness that is caused by an influenza virus. The contagious disease affects the nose, mouth, and sometimes the lungs. 
  • Although the flu can spread throughout the year, flu season primarily occurs in the fall and winter. Cases usually increase in October and  peak between December and February. 
  • According to the CDC, each flu season, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick. 
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that vaccinations (commonly known as the “flu shot”) are the best way to avoid contracting the flu. 

How can I differentiate between COVID-19 and the flu?

  • COVID-19 is an infection caused by the novel coronavirus, whereas the flu is an infection caused by the influenza virus. 
  • Although both viruses have symptoms such as fever, coughing, shortness of breath, body aches, and runny or stuffy nose, people with COVID-19 may develop additional symptoms such as the loss of smell and/or taste. 
  • COVID-19 spreads more quickly and easily than the flu, as seen with superspreader events. 
  • The best way to determine if you have the flu or COVID-19 is to visit a testing center and receive a formal diagnosis. 
  • Recently, the FDA has granted emergency use authorization for a diagnostic test that distinguishes between COVID-19, influenza A, and influenza B. 

Who is most at risk?

  • Both COVID-19 and the flu put similar groups of people at risk for severe illness and complications. Specifically, those most at risk include pregnant women, people 65 and older, people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes, and people who experience the most exposure to these viruses.
  • Children ages five and under are at risk for severe illness from the flu, but school-aged children are at a higher risk for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), which is a rare complication of COVID-19. 

Can we prevent influenza or COVID-19 with a vaccine? 

  • We don’t have an approved COVID-19 vaccine yet, but there is hope. Researchers are working at an accelerated pace to find a vaccine or multiple vaccines. To track real-time progress on a COVID-19 vaccine, visit the New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker
  • For the annual influenza virus, the FDA has approved multiple vaccines. We encourage our clients to get the flu shot every year. According to the Washington Post, despite widespread availability, only around half of Americans receive a flu vaccine annually. 

How can I prepare for the flu season? 

  • The CDC recommends getting a flu shot in September or October. 
  • Visit your local pharmacy or clinic, such as CVS or CityMD to receive a flu vaccination. Most insurance plans incentivize members to receive vaccines. 
  • Online tools, such as VaccineFinder, can help you find a nearby clinic.

If you have questions about COVID-19 and the flu that we didn’t answer here, let us know. As we learn more about COVID-19 and prepare for the upcoming flu season, the BHA team encourages you to continue best practices of social distancing, handwashing and wearing masks to protect yourself, your loved ones, and the community. We are in this together! 

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