The peak of flu season may be months away, but you can protect yourself now by getting a flu shot. That step is more important than ever because it can be hard to differentiate the flu from COVID-19.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. In Connecticut, flu cases start to appear as early as October and continue through March or April. Older people, young children, pregnant women and those with certain chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, obesity or diabetes are at increased risk for complications.
Common flu symptoms include fever, sore throat, dry cough, headache and body aches. COVID-19 symptoms can also include fever, cough and aches. Other common COVID-19 symptoms can include diarrhea and vomiting.
“What we’re worried about specifically is as we start to see not only the flu, but other respiratory infections coming in to our community, it will be very difficult for clinicians to differentiate between those who have COVID and those who have the flu,” said Richard Martinello, MD, Medical Director of Infection Prevention.
If you suspect you have any symptoms related to the flu or COVID-19, you should contact your doctor right away. There are medications available to effectively treat the flu. If your doctor suspects you have COVID-19, you will need to be tested and self-isolate for 14 days.
Dr. Martinello said the best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get your yearly flu shot. It’s safe and recommended for everyone 6 months or older, including pregnant women, unless you’re known to have a severe allergy to the flu shot.
“You cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” Dr. Martinello said. “There is no live virus in the flu shot. It’s really just proteins from the virus itself that are in the shot so it’s impossible to get flu from the flu shot.”
Dr. Martinello recommends everyone get their shot in September, before the flu becomes widespread. Getting that shot every year can help protect at risk populations, like the elderly.
Another common misconception is that the flu is just as dangerous as COVID-19. While the flu has a substantial impact on our country each year, COVID-19 has a higher rate of death associated with it.
The good news is that some of the safety measures associated with COVID-19 may be helpful this upcoming flu season. Influenza and COVID-19 are both spread through respiratory droplets, so hand washing, social distancing and mask wearing will all be essential practices in the months to come.
Learn more about flu vs. COVID-19 symptoms