4 Steps to Avoid Flu and COVID-19

Know the difference. Avoid both.

Just last year, telling the difference between flu and cold symptoms was a primary health topic.

Then 2020 changed everything. Now everyone wants to know if their symptoms may mean something more serious.

“We’ve never been exposed to COVID-19 before,” says Adriane Gianlupi, MD, FCCP, Board Certified in Pulmonary and Critical Care, who is on staff at OakLeaf Clinics and HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “Because this is a new virus, we don’t have antibodies built up to handle it. The result is the potential for development of severe infection and death.”

According to Dr. Gianlupi, differentiating COVID-19 from influenza infection, especially in the early phase of the disease, is difficult due to the fact that multiple signs and symptoms are very similar. They include fever, chills, headaches, muscle pain, cough, and fatigue. Symptoms more unique to COVID 19 infection are diarrhea, nausea, skin rashes, and loss of smell and taste.

Other organs affected by COVID 19 only are heart, kidneys, and vascular (such as development of blood clots). Later in the illness, COVID-19 can cause severe shortness of breath due to pneumonia and respiratory failure, although influenza can cause similarly severe respiratory disease.

Without proper testing, it is impossible to distinguish between the two viral infections. It is possible to contract both infections at the same time, which causes even more serious illness. About one in four COVID-19 patients has been diagnosed with an additional respiratory infection, including influenza.

4 Ways to Be Smart About Prevention

To do the best you can to avoid both the flu and COVID-19, start with these important basics:

  1. Wash your hands regularly.
  2. Don’t touch your eyes or nose.
  3. Keep your distance from others.
  4. Wear a mask around others in public places.

In addition, get your annual flu vaccine. Fighting off the flu can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Flu shots are more important this year than they’ve ever been—especially for people with chronic conditions that put them at increased risk for COVID-19 complications,” Dr. Gianlupi says.

“The good news is that both influenza and COVID-19 are transmitted the same way, so by following the above recommendations we will be able to decrease the rates of both infections. In addition, there are at least three vaccines that have already shown significant results in preventing COVID-19 in a safe manner and should be available soon.”

Do you need a flu shot? To find a primary care provider near you, visit sacredhearteauclaire.org or stjoeschipfalls.org.

You may also be interested in “5 Tips for Washing Your Hands the Right Way.”