UPDATE: The Differences You Should Know Between Coronavirus and Seasonal Flu

Covid-19, Flu, Vaccine, CDC

As seasons are changing, the coronavirus is deciding to hang around. With the flu season coming up, people have been worried about differentiating between these two serious viruses. Is COVID-19 the same thing as the seasonal flu? Health experts have discovered that there are similarities, but the two are far from the same virus.  

CDC recommends everyone get flu vaccine this year

Manufacturers are making more vaccines this year to be prepared for flu season—between 194 million and 198 million doses, which is 20 million more than last season. Scientists worry that this flu season could bring on a double pandemic, what some are calling a “twindemic”. There is evidence that a person can contract both the flu and COVID-19.

Epidemiologist Dr. John Brownstein stated: “Increased indoor interaction and decreased humidity are potential factors that lead to a broad rise in respiratory illness. The concern is that we have these rising epidemics at the same time posing both increased individual risk and a deepening strain on health care capacity.”

Since both viruses affect the lungs and breathing, complications and potential respiratory failure could be a great risk should both COVD-19 and the flu interact. On the other hand, some research has shown that with two respiratory viruses competing with one another in the same person, one tends to “win out” and suppress the other. 

With current mask guidelines and other measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the hope us that these efforts will work against the flu. Still, experts recommend getting the vaccine early to prevent people suffering and overwhelming hospitals.   

Flu in older adults

The flu affects older adults more than other age groups. Seniors are more likely to die and suffer from complications from the flu. For those 65 and older, it is recommended to get the flu vaccine injection and not the nasal mist, and to get the vaccine in the month of October. 

Many workplaces and educational institutions may require the flu vaccine this year, so be prepared and get vaccinated early before supply runs out. 

Where to get flu vaccine

Workplaces will probably not be offering the flu vaccine this year, so it’s best to get one elsewhere. You can get a flu vaccine at Walgreens, CVS, your local doctor’s office. Some physician groups will be setting up tents where you can get a shot outdoors. Others may provide curbside or drive-through vaccines. Walgreens will offer off-site and mobile flu clinics in underserved areas. Find out where you can get vaccinated by visiting the CDC’s Vaccine Finder site. 

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COVID-19: No seasonal patterns

“In the absence of control measures, very often, viruses can show seasonal patterns. We’ve certainly seen that with influenza. This virus has demonstrated no seasonal pattern as such, so far,” said Mike Ryan, who heads the WHO’s emergencies program. “What it has clearly demonstrated is, you take the pressure off the virus, the virus bounces back.”

Coronavirus cases rose quickly in cities such as Houston, Austin, Dallas and Phoenix in the summer months, even as the mercury rose into the triple digits. The two countries hit hardest by the virus outside North America, Brazil and India, are both hot weather climates. In Russia, where the climate is much cooler, more than 890,000 people have tested positive for the virus. 

“This virus is proving exceptionally difficult to stop,” Ryan said. But cases are still rising in 12 states, from tiny Hawaii and Vermont to Virginia, Illinois and Indiana.

Georgia has reported 22,000 new cases, and Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee all topped 10,000. 

COVID-19 is not going anywhere

WHO officials said the pandemic will continue for months but that emerging science shows that only a small fraction of those who contract the virus are responsible for the bulk of the spread. Maria Van Kerkhove, the American leading the technical team investigating the virus for the WHO, said between 10 and 20 percent of cases are responsible for up to 80 percent of transmission.

“We know that if the virus has an opportunity to spread, it will,” Van Kerkhove said. “We know that the majority of the population still remains susceptible to infection.” 

Coronavirus vs. Seasonal Flu

Let’s start with the similarities between coronavirus and the flu

Symptoms

  • Both cause fever, cough, body aches, new fatigue, and congestion or runny nose; sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. 
  • Both can be mild or severe, even fatal.
  • Both can turn into pneumonia.

Transmission

  • Both can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person (i.e. coughing, sneezing or talking).
  • Both can be spread by an infected person for several days before the person’s  symptoms appear.

Treatment

  • Neither virus is treatable with antibiotics, which only work on bacterial infections.
  • Both are treated by addressing symptoms, such as reducing fever. Severe cases may require hospitalization and support such as mechanical ventilation.

Prevention

Both can be prevented by frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and limiting contact with people who are infected. Physical distancing can limit the spread of COVID-19 in communities.

The differences between COVID-19 and seasonal flu

Cause

COVID-19: Caused by one virus, the novel 2019 coronavirus, now called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.

Flu: Caused by any of several different types and strains of influenza viruses. 

Transmission

COVID-19 might be spread through the airborne route, meaning that tiny droplets remaining in the air could cause disease in others even after the ill person is no longer near. 

Antiviral Medications

COVID-19: Antiviral medications and other therapies are currently being tested to see if they can address symptoms.

Flu: Antiviral medications can address symptoms and sometimes shorten the duration of the illness. 

Vaccine

COVID-19: Vaccines have been reported to be in the final stages of testing. Dr. Fauci has said that he is optimistic about a vaccine being ready early 2021.

Flu: A vaccine is available and effective to prevent some of the most dangerous types or to reduce the severity of the flu.

Complications

COVID-19: Lasting damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain and other organs is possible after a severe case of COVID-19.

Flu: Influenza complications can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscles (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure.

Infections

COVID-19: Approximately 27,414,048 cases have been confirmed worldwide. There have been 6,314,282 cases in the U.S. as of September 8, 2020.

Flu: The World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion people worldwide get the flu every year.

According to the CDC, in the U.S., for Oct. 1, 2019 through Apr. 4, 2020, there were 39 million to 56 million cases of flu. (The CDC does not know the exact number because the flu is not a reportable disease in most parts of the U.S.) 

Deaths

COVID-19: There have been approximately 894,012 deaths reported worldwide. In the U.S, 189,400 people have died of COVID-19, as of September 8, 2020.

Flu: The World Health Organization estimates that 290,000 to 650,000 people die of flu-related causes every year worldwide.

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