Every autumn marks the arrival of a new cold and flu season, and this year’s season presents a unique challenge. In addition to trying to stave off the common cold and influenza throughout the fall and winter months, we must also contend with COVID-19. So what will this overlap mean for you and your family? To help you stay informed and healthy this flu season, we’ve broken down what you should know when it comes to flu and COVID.
You can have COVID-19 and flu at the same time
Simultaneously having COVID-19 and flu is possible, which is why it is important to remain especially vigilant throughout flu season, which can extend into April. Having both illnesses at the same time could place a heavy burden on your immune system, likely leading to more severe symptoms and potentially increasing the risk of severe illness and/or poor outcome. Groups at higher risk for flu complications—such as those who have a chronic health condition, are pregnant or are age 65 or older—are considered high-risk for many of the same COVID-19 complications, including:
- Sinus and ear infections
The good news is there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from this viral duo, starting with getting a flu shot.
While it may not offer defense against COVID-19, the flu vaccine is the most effective way to help protect yourself and your loved ones against flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu shot has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children.
Wear, wash, watch: How to protect yourself from COVID and flu
All those hygiene habits you started practicing in March to avoid COVID-19? They work against the flu, too. Remember the three W’s:
- Wear a mask any time social distancing is not possible
- Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds
- Watch your distance and maintain a space of at least six feet from others
It's also important to stay home when you're sick or if you suspect you may have been exposed to someone who was sick. If you experience severe symptoms or are unable to manage symptoms on your own, call your healthcare provider.
Symptoms don’t tell the whole story when it comes to COVID-19 or flu
COVID-19 and flu share many similarities, according to the CDC. Both are highly contagious respiratory viruses with varying degrees of symptoms and severity. Given how many characteristics these two illnesses have in common, symptoms alone may not be enough to reach a diagnosis.
Plus, it is possible to have COVID-19 and flu and be asymptomatic. In other words, you could have zero symptoms and still be a contagious carrier of either virus.
Common symptoms of both COVID-19 and flu
Due to the similarities described above, COVID-19 and flu share many of the same symptoms, including:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
Symptoms unique to COVID-19
A person with COVID-19 may experience these symptoms, which appear to be unique to COVID-19 and not typically seen with flu:
- Change in or loss of taste or sense of smell
Watch for COVID-19 and flu emergency warning signs
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with COVID-19 or flu, there are several emergency signs to watch for that could indicate serious illness. Seek emergency medical care immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent chest or stomach pain or pressure
- New confusion or dizziness
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
- High fever
This flu season, it’s as important as ever to take action and follow the preventive steps outlined above to help protect you from both viruses. Visit the CDC to learn more about COVID-19 and flu, and talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about how to keep you and your loved ones healthy this flu season.