What do COVID-19 and the flu have in common? They are both respiratory illnesses that could hit like a one-two punch this year causing an increase in cases, possibly more severe. The best offense is to get the flu shot AND wear a mask. Also wash your hands frequently and know the symptoms so you don’t spread the illness.
COVID-19 vs. Influenza
COVID-19 and the flu are caused by different viruses, but they are similar in some ways:
- Both are spread from person-to-person
- Both can cause varying illness from mild to severe.
- They share many of the same symptoms, including:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
Some of the symptoms that separate COVID-19 from the flu include change in or loss of taste or smell. While the CDC reports that COVID-19 is proving more deadly for older adults and people with underlying health conditions, the flu can be more dangerous for children.
The Risk of Dual Diagnosis
While it’s unknown if having the flu makes you more susceptible to getting COVID-19, and whether having both at the same time might lead to more severe illness, it is plausible that people can be infected by both at the same time. What is known is that both viruses target and damage the respiratory tract, primarily while stimulating a robust immune response.
So the risk of having more severe symptoms and severe complications from a dual infection is conceivably higher. Other common respiratory symptoms — nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and productive cough — might also be increased in severity. And the duration of the symptoms, both mild and severe, could be longer.
All the precautions we’ve been taking for several months to decrease the spread of COVID-19, hand-washing, wearing face coverings and social distancing, can decrease your risk of getting the flu. This is because both viruses spread and transmit via respiratory droplets when people who are infected breathe, speak, cough and sneeze.
That does NOT mean you should avoid the flu shot. Experts stress that getting the flu shot and vaccination against COVID-19 — when available — is still pivotal to achieve herd immunity and significantly decrease both infections in the community. Everyone age 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine as directed by their health care providers.