Navigating flu season during the COVID-19 pandemic
Flu season 2020 will be unlike any other flu season in history. With a record number of COVID-19 cases, and a healthcare system that’s already pushed to the limits, the benefits of a flu shot and other preventive measures have never been more significant.
Here’s how you can do your part to protect yourself and others from the dangerous mix of flu season and COVID-19.
What you need to know about COVID-19 and flu season 2020
This will be the first time the U.S. has faced a full flu season during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, there’s little information available to predict how these two potentially deadly viruses may interact.
It’s possible that, if everyone follows the CDC guidelines regarding the wearing of masks, frequent hand washing, and appropriate social distancing, this year’s flu season could be milder than usual. Unfortunately, pandemic fatigue has set in, making this possibility seem less and less likely.
What’s more likely is that our overtaxed healthcare system may soon face a dangerous “twindemic,” a term describing the collision of COVID-19 and flu season 2020. Thankfully, there’s an available vaccine to help protect you against the flu virus.
What are the benefits of a flu shot during COVID-19?
With COVID-19 and flu season intersecting this year, the benefits of a flu shot cannot be overstated. While a flu shot isn’t likely to protect you from COVID-19, it can help to prevent you from contracting both infections at the same time—a situation that could prove to be more serious than having either infection on its own.
If you experience both viruses simultaneously, it can also be difficult for your doctor to determine the cause of your illness, or the most effective way to treat it. In fact, you may need to undergo COVID-19 testing simply to rule out the possibility of a dual infection. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when COVID-19 testing kits are already in high demand.
What are the differences between the flu and COVID-19?
The two viruses both spread in the same way—through infected particles and droplets in the air. They both can cause severe illness and even death, which means that—given the shortage of hospital beds created by the pandemic—an influx of influenza patients could easily overwhelm our nation’s healthcare system.
To further complicate matters, the symptoms of both viruses are extremely similar. These include cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, fever, fatigue, headache, and body aches. The only difference is that with COVID-19, some people report losing their sense of taste or smell—symptoms not typically associated with the flu.
Nonetheless, the similarity of symptoms underscores the importance of getting a flu shot this season. This precaution will make it easier for your doctor to rule out influenza, before straining limited testing supplies to confirm a diagnosis of COVID-19.
If I get the flu, can I still get COVID-19?
As of now, there’s no scientific evidence to support that experiencing one virus provides any protection against the other. This means your ability to fend off the flu won’t necessarily help you fight off the coronavirus.
Nor do we yet understand the consequences of being exposed to COVID-19 after your lungs have been damaged by the flu or another recent infection. For now, it’s best to play it safe and do what you can to protect yourself.
Can a flu shot protect against COVID-19?
The short answer is no. Neither a flu shot nor a flu medication, such as Tamiflu®, can protect against or lessen the symptoms of COVID-19. These options can only protect you from, or lessen the severity of, the flu.
If you’re already sick with influenza, or have been exposed to the influenza virus, you should act quickly. An antiviral medication like Tamiflu can prevent you from getting sick, but it needs to be taken within 48 hours of onset to be most effective.
For the best way to protect yourself against the double threat of flu season 2020, consult your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor. Your concierge doctor can use her or his in-depth knowledge of your personal health history to help you make the most informed healthcare choices for your needs—ideally protecting you throughout both flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’re already experiencing signs or symptoms of what could be either the flu or COVID-19, ask your doctor about the appropriate next steps. Meanwhile, it’s best to self-isolate. Staying away from others will help prevent the spread of either virus in the community.