LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — This year’s flu season will overlap with the coronavirus pandemic in a matter of weeks, with flu season beginning in October.
Americans are already monitoring their health closely, keeping an eye out for any symptoms that could indicate they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, but experts say it will be more challenging to pin down why they’re sick if influenza is widespread.
“They are very similar and that makes it a challenge to discern which types of symptoms are related to the [coronavirus] and which symptoms are related to the flu,” said UK HealthCare infectious disease expert Dr. Derek Forster.
The flu and coronavirus share many similar symptoms, including fever, fatigue, body aches, coughing, and more.
So, how do you tell the difference?
“One of the distinguishing characteristics between the two would be the loss of smell. We see that with COVID-19, but we don’t see that with influenza so that is an important distinction,” Dr. Forster said.
However, the best way to tell the illnesses apart is through testing.
“I think a lot of places will end up testing for both if there’s a need to discern the two,” Dr. Forster said.
If at any point you start feeling unwell, Dr. Forster said it is better to play it safe and self-isolate until you can confirm you are no longer contagious. For COVID-19, that might mean testing negative. For the flu, that could mean distancing yourself from others during the first few days when you are most contagious.
“It’s important to have a low threshold to be in contact with your [medical] provider and to get tested for both COVID and the flu,” said. Dr. Forster.
Health experts are also urging people to make sure they get their flu shots.
“This is an important year for vaccination,” said Dr. Forster.
Pediatric specialist Dr. Sean McTigue added though the number of children who fall seriously ill to COVID-19 remains low, the opposite is true about the flu.
“The emergence of the upcoming influenza season is actually more concerning for children than COVID-19,” McTigue said. “Many of those wind up in pediatric intensive care units and many of those end up on ventilators.”
More than 46,000 children ages 0-17 were hospitalized in the United States because of influenza during the 2018-2019 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
McTigue noted that measures presently being taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 could be useful when battling the flu.
“We certainly have a reason to believe [masks] would also cut down the spread of influenza as well. So there’s certainly no reason for folks of any age not to be wearing a mask,” McTigue said.
Ultimately, both doctors said the flu vaccine gives our children and community the best shot at keeping the virus at bay.
The CDC recommends people get a flu vaccine by the end of October to make sure it’s most effective during the peak flu season.