How to Prepare for Flu Season During the COVID-19 Pandemic
What should I do to prepare for the cold and flu season?
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Kristin Englund, MD, recommends the following:
- Get a flu shot. This recommendation is supported by the CDC, which recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older get a flu shot annually by the end of October; this may be even more important than usual in 2020, to help reduce strain on limited healthcare resources this fall and winter as COVID-19 and influenza may circulate simultaneously. Health officials have confirmed that it is possible to get infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, so mitigating flu infection risks is more important than ever.
- Stock your medicine cabinet. Keep a few over-the-counter medicines on hand: a fever reducer such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen to relieve muscle aches, and a cough syrup to help decongest your airways. You should also have a basic first aid kit, an internal thermometer to check for fever, and a pulse oximeter if you have underlying conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
- Have a plan in case you get sick. If you do not have your primary care physician on speed-dial, make sure you have a backup plan or two for getting care in both emergency and non-emergency situations. If you develop any symptoms of influenza or COVID-19, seek out professional medical advice—such as by booking a virtual doctor appointment through SAMI-Aid—to know whether you should get tested and whether you should seek in-person care or simply stay home as you recover.
- Stay vigilant with safety precautions. There are many nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) which are recommended as common-sense measures to help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses in general. Personal NPIs which should always be taken include the following:
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover any coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces, objects, and your living environment.
In times of unusually heightened concern over viral illnesses, public health officials may recommend “community NPIs” (community mitigation strategies) such as the following:
- Expand sick-leave policies and allow more remote work
- Temporarily dismiss schools from meeting in person
- Cancel all large public events
- Wear a face covering when in close proximity to others
- Avoid unnecessary travel
- Physically distance from others not living in your home
The above measures may sound familiar because many of them have been implemented across the U.S. in an attempt to mitigate the health risks surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Please heed the recommendations of your local and national health officials, such as maintaining social distance of at least 6 feet from others when in public, and staying home for at least 14 days if you are exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
When will flu activity begin and when will it peak?
It is still too soon to tell when influenza activity will peak in the U.S. for the 2020-21 season. Most likely, it will not be until at least late fall. The beginning, peak, and end of flu season varies from region to region and from year to year. The CDC begins tracking flu activity in the month of October and ends tracking in May, but peak flu season is generally between December and February or occasionally as late as March. Preparation for flu season should begin no later than early fall. The best time to get a flu shot is between September and October—much earlier or later, and you run a higher risk of getting sick during the peak of flu season.
Is the flu virus the same every year?
Not necessarily. There are four main types of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. Influenza viruses of types A and B are the most common culprits which cause human flu epidemics in the U.S. Within these types, there can be one or more unique strains. Each year’s flu vaccine may differ slightly and may vary from region to region depending on the three or four most common strains of influenza expected to be prevalent in a given region and season. For 2020-21, the CDC-approved U.S. flu vaccines include types A(H1N1), A(H3N2), B(Victoria), and B(Yamagata). This means that it is still possible to get infected with another virus after getting a flu shot; however, getting a flu shot protects you against those particular strains.
What are the differences between COVID-19 and the flu?
One important difference is that COVID-19 does not yet have an approved vaccine, while the most common flu viruses do have FDA-licensed vaccines. Both COVID-19 and the flu can have similar symptoms which last from a few days for up to two weeks in most individuals. For individuals with compromised immune systems or severely advanced age, symptoms can last more than two weeks or become life-threatening. Influenza patients have been known to develop symptoms within 1 to 4 days from initial exposure, while COVID-19 patients may not develop symptoms for 5 or more days after initial exposure. If you believe you may have been exposed to the flu or COVID-19 but do not yet have symptoms, then you should be very cautious about coming into contact with anyone whose immune system is compromised.
The following symptoms are commonly experienced as a result of the flu and COVID-19 alike:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
The following symptoms are less likely to occur from seasonal influenza and more likely to occur from COVID-19:
- New loss of taste or smell
- Nausea or vomiting
The CDC recommends seeking out medical advice and diagnostic testing if you have any of the above symptoms and/or think that you might have COVID-19. If you have only mild symptoms, your doctor will likely recommend that you stay home, take good care of your body, get plenty of rest, and seek out diagnostic testing. If you have severe symptoms such as high fever, severe cough, shortness of breath, or pneumonia, you should seek emergency care as soon as possible.
How can I access immediate care for flu or COVID-19 infection?
While you may have a primary care physician, he or she may be swamped during flu season and unable to take immediate appointments. If COVID-19 continues to be a serious concern throughout the winter, most physicians will be encouraging their patients to stay home except in cases of emergency. Thus, it is wise to have a backup plan or even a new first line of defense when seeking care.
Telehealth services such as SAMI-Aid provide the perfect buffer zone for your healthcare during this unprecedented upcoming flu season. For just $59.99 per visit, you can speak with a doctor through a phone or video call within just minutes. If you have the flu, SAMI-Aid’s doctors can provide easy assessment and treatment. If you think you may have COVID-19, SAMI-Aid offers a free COVID-19 assessment and the ability to purchase easy-to-use at-home COVID-19 testing kits for an affordable price. SAMI-Aid also offers therapy and psychiatry visits for a low price, and SAMI-Aid’s Premium membership offers a 33% discount on appointments plus access to exclusive bonus features. Join SAMI-Aid today for free and enter this flu season with confidence.