We’re about to enter flu season…during a global pandemic. Talk about a double-whammy. There is good news and bad news as we head into the colder months, however. Learn more about what to expect and how best to protect yourself against both viruses.
The seemingly never-ending threat of COVID-19 still looms over much of the world, while the seasonal flu lurks around the corner. Seems unfair, to be honest. In the U.S., flu season generally occurs every fall and spring, with peak activity around December and January. The flu typically affects between 9-45 million per year, with 12,000-61,000 deaths per year associated with the virus. In comparison, COVID-19 has infected close to 8.2 million people and has resulted in more than 220,000 deaths in the U.S. (and counting).
How to tell the difference
Unfortunately, recorded symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to that of influenza, so it’s hard to tell which you may be infected with without a test. What’s even more unfair: you can have both at the same time. The seasonal flu is caused by the influenza virus, while COVID-19 derives from the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Both are respiratory diseases and can cause symptoms of sore throat, congestion, coughing, fever, chills, etc. (note: symptoms present differently in different people). COVID-19 has been recorded to also include symptoms like loss of taste and smell and severe difficulty breathing. Regardless, experts strongly recommend staying home and away from others, and getting tested should any symptoms appear.
Ways to stay safe
Both COVID-19 and the flu are spread through droplets of water expelled from the facial area and can be prevented through safe practices like hand washing and covering a cough. Preventing the spread of both can be accomplished by wearing a mask, social distancing, and staying home if you’re feeling sick. What’s even more effective against the flu is getting a seasonal flu shot from your doctor, a line of defense not yet available for preventing against a COVID-19 infection.
The good news
There is a possible silver lining in the timing of the flu: a majority of us are using protective measures against COVID-19 (wearing masks and socially distancing) that can also help prevent the spread of the flu. In fact, the CDC issued a report suggesting lower than average activity of influenza across several countries so far this year due to interventions aimed at reducing COVID-19 infections.
More good news: you can help protect yourself even more by staying healthy through a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, exercising frequently, getting proper sleep and taking measures to lower stress. All of these factors help build a healthy immune system to help fight against foreign invaders.
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