UTICA, NY – Knowing the difference between influenza (the flu) and COVID-19 may be hard for an individual who isn’t feeling well since the illnesses share many symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Connect with your health care provider right away to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment,” said Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medical Director Nicholas Massa, M.D.
The CDC lists common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share, including:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of how dangerous a virus can be and how important it is to have an effective vaccine.
“In 2019, the CDC estimates between 39 million and 56 million people got sick with the flu and between 24,000 and 62,000 people died of flu complications,” said Massa. “Fortunately, we have a flu vaccine in hand for this year’s strains that can provide a level of immunity or reduce the severity if you do get sick.”
The first place you should call to get the flu vaccine is always your primary care provider. If needed, the flu vaccine can also be obtained at most major pharmacies, and at other sites in our community. The CDC recommends it for everyone 6 months of age and older. Most health insurance plans cover the flu vaccine in full, and you usually don’t need an appointment to receive it at a pharmacy.
“The flu season could last as late as May in a given year, but it is important to get vaccinated sooner than later to help establish a level of immunity in our community,” said Massa. “It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide protection.”
Older adults should consult with their health care provider to see if they recommend the high-dose flu vaccine that is approved for people aged 65 and older. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the high-dose vaccine was 24-percent more effective in preventing flu in adults aged 65 and older relative to a standard-dose vaccine.
One person with the flu can infect other people one day before any symptoms develop, and up to about seven days after they become sick. For the very young, the very old, women who are pregnant, and individuals with compromised immune systems including many patients on chemotherapy, catching the flu can place them at high risk for serious complications, including death. It isn’t always obvious who among us is vulnerable.
“The safety protocols we practice for COVID-19 should also help reduce the spread of the flu virus,” said Massa.