What to Expect this Flu Season
Schneck Medical Center - October 01, 2020

The 2020-21 Flu Season

The COVID-19 pandemic has made for a unique year so far. We've all had to adjust our lives to help slow the spread of the virus, sometimes in challenging ways. Despite all our efforts, however, we can't forget about another, different virus that visits us each winter: influenza, commonly called the flu. With COVID-19 concerns lingering, what should you expect this flu season?
 

What should I expect this flu season?

Let's start with the good news. Based on observations made in the Southern Hemisphere, this flu season is predicted to be milder than usual. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere experience winter earlier in the year than we do in the U.S., so we can predict how our flu season will look based on their trends. We've received reports of unusually low flu cases, which may imply a similar trend for us this season.
 
Doctors and scientists do not know exactly why the flu has been milder so far; however, it seems likely that increased COVID-19 safety measures—like keeping physical distance, wearing masks, and traveling less—have also helped slow the spread of influenza. Both COVID-19 and influenza are respiratory illnesses that spread in similar ways; but this also means they can be prevented in similar ways.
 
So this flu season may be milder than usual, but it will depend in large part on the preventative measures we all choose to take as winter approaches.
 

How are flu and COVID-19 symptoms similar or different?

Although influenza and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, many of their symptoms overlap. Here are some key similarities and differences to keep in mind.
 

Similarities

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Body aches
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache

Differences (unique to COVID-19)

  • New loss of taste/smell
  • Chest discomfort with shortness of breath
  • GI complaints

The World Health Organization has also noted that, while influenza can severely infect a wider demographic—especially children, pregnant women, elderly, those with underlying chronic medical conditions, and those who are immunosuppressed—80% of COVID-19 infections to date have been mild or asymptomatic, with most severe cases affecting the elderly. The bottom line? If you experience several of the above symptoms, your age and personal health conditions may help you identify whether it's flu or COVID-19.
 

Should I get a flu shot?

Everyone who is eligible should get a flu shot for at least three reasons.
 
  • A flu shot will reduce your chance of getting the flu or at least makes it less severe.
  • It is likely possible to get both influenza and COVID-19 together. Since we do not yet have a COVID-19 vaccine, a flu shot could decrease the changes of this happening.
  • Getting into a vaccination “mindset” will help keep you current and safe as future vaccinations become available.

Flu shots are widely available, affordable, and take little time out of your day—but they could save you loads of stress this season.

What are additional ways to avoid getting sick during flu season?

Beyond getting a flu shot, there are a number of simple steps you can take to stay healthy this season, many of them similar to what we have done during this pandemic.
  • Avoid being in higher-risk situations (crowded rooms).
  • Continue to wear a mask and stay socially distant as much as possible.
  • Stay healthy through regular exercise and a nutrient-dense diet.
In summary, here's a quote from Dr. Olsen, Schneck Internal Medicine: "As a respiratory virus, influenza does share many similarities with COVID-19, but it is generally less contagious, less deadly, and less likely to lead to long-term disability. Nevertheless, treating influenza as a serious health risk will likely help you avoid complications with these overlapping viruses this season."
 
To schedule your flu vaccine, visit one of our Drive-Thru Vaccine Clinics or call your primary care physician. 

Learn more about the differences between influenza and the common cold.
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