As you move throughout your day, you begin to notice that you feel a bit run down, you are beginning to cough, your head is starting to ache, and you think you might have a fever. Do you have COVID? Or is it the flu?
The symptoms of flu and of COVID are similar, and both diseases spread in a similar manner through particles in the air when someone infected coughs, sneezes or talks. The differences are 1) the onset of symptoms following exposure is faster for the flu (1-4 days) than it is for COVID (typically 5 days, but can appear 2-4 days after infection), 2) the length of time you can spread the illness (flu – 7 days, COVID – 10 days or longer with severe illness), and 3) how contagious the virus might be (COVID is generally more contagious).
As the leaves begin to change, and we enter the fall season, we know that flu season also begins to ramp up. During these uncertain times of the COVID pandemic, it is more important than ever to do all we can to prevent the flu. Flu prevention techniques are similar to those that help us avoid getting COVID. Wash your hands, wear a mask indoors and when you can’t be physically distant from others, stay home when you’re feeling ill, and most importantly – get vaccinated! If you haven’t yet received the COVID vaccine, you can get it at the same time you get your flu vaccine. You need both vaccines to be protected from flu and from COVID.
Idaho’s hospitals are at or near capacity with COVID patients who are predominantly unvaccinated. Both flu and COVID can result in serious illness and complications, particularly for those who are high risk – older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, and those who are pregnant. If you experience complications from the flu, there may not be available healthcare resources to treat you. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get sick with flu and then worry about whether I will be able to access the care that I need.
When it comes to flu and COVID, there is good news. We have vaccines that can prevent severe illness and hospitalization, that are proven safe and effective. There are now tests that healthcare providers can use to test for Influenza A and B and COVID-19 at the same time. Testing and vaccines are easily accessible in pharmacies, and in your community. You as an individual have a role in public health and can support the health of your community by getting vaccinated against the flu. I got my COVID and flu vaccine to protect myself, my elderly parents, and my toddler. Who will you protect when you get vaccinated to fight COVID and the flu?
Jennifer Adams is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor at the Idaho State University College of Pharmacy. She has worked as an immunization advocate for 20 years.