The arrival of fall brings with it the annual appeal from health care providers to prepare for flu season by getting a flu shot. However, during this year, when everything seems more complicated, the 2020 flu season also brings greater challenges.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic two viruses are simultaneously circulating with similar symptoms, but different causes. Health professionals are concerned about the implication of two major respiratory viruses spreading at the same time.
While some providers hope that the pandemic precautions that have become part of our everyday lives — wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance and good hand hygiene — also will help curb the spread of the flu virus, they’re preparing to manage a greater influx of patients during this season.
To make things more difficult, COVID-19, the flu and regular seasonal allergies share similar symptoms, making it hard for people to discern if their common cough is normal or something of greater concern.
So how can you tell them apart?
Both influenza and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses that primarily affect the lungs and breathing, but are caused by different viruses. They share many of the same symptoms, including:
• muscle and body aches;
• sore throat; and
• congestion or runny nose.
“One symptom that differs with COVID-19 is loss of taste and smell,” said Dr. Heather Doss, primary care physician at The Liberty Clinic. “If you notice the loss of taste or smell, you should contact your physician and be evaluated for COVID-19 testing.”
Another difference is found in the onset of symptoms. The flu is more likely to appear rapidly with high fever, headache and body aches.
In contrast, COVID-19 can have a wide range of symptoms and vary in severity from no symptoms to severe. Symptoms can start anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure.
Because health professionals don’t yet know the risks associated with a person having both viruses at the same time, they urgently recommend that people get the flu shot this year.
In addition, the normal fall allergy season is here. People who are allergic to pollen and ragweed are reaching for their tissues and allergy medicines. We all know how awkward it can be to sneeze or cough in public, even while wearing a mask.
“If you are a seasonal allergy sufferer, you may be paying closer attention to your symptoms this year,” Doss said. “If you recognize additional or unusual symptoms, such as new loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, nonasthma related shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, call your doctor.”
The common allergy symptoms not typically present in COVID or flu patients include itchy or watery eyes and sneezing.
“If your usual allergy medication does not relieve your symptoms, or symptoms last longer or are different than normal, that’s an indicator you should reach out to your doctor,” Doss said.
Many providers are using telehealth as a way to reduce risk of infection, and appointments may be made with a short wait time.
With the unique challenges present during this year’s flu, allergy and COVID-19 season, Doss offers one simple recommendation: “When you are in doubt, ask your doctor.”
~ Liberty Hospital