Many people are finding it difficult to distinguish between flu and COVID symptoms. What are the similarities and differences between the two conditions, and what can be done to mitigate them? This information will be useful during the rainy season, when flu is rampant.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts have worried about people getting infected with the influenza virus and COVID-19 coronavirus, either simultaneously or back-to-back, reported a recent National Geographic article. The condition has been dubbed ‘flurona’.
The prospect of getting flurona has been causing some anxiety, especially during the flu season. With the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, and societies being more open than a year ago, the flu is staging a comeback after being less prevalent amid last year’s lockdowns and heightened focus on hygiene. Cases are being reported around the globe, and experts say they are likely to grow with the more contagious Omicron variant, highlighted a Channel NewsAsia report.
The phenomenon, however, is not new. Reports of such co-infections can be traced to early 2020, pointed out the report. National Geographic also confirms that a study of hospital patients shows that flurona cases have been happening throughout the pandemic, but are — so far — relatively rare. Out of more than 170,000 recorded cases of COVID-19 seen in hospital data from the Mayo Clinic, just 73 were co-infected with the flu.
COVID-19 and the flu have several differences, including different causes, complications and treatments. COVID-19 and the flu also spread differently, have varying severity levels, and a couple of different symptoms, and can be prevented by different vaccines.
COVID-19 and the flu are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, while influenza is caused by influenza A and B viruses.SYMPTOMS
Both share similar symptoms: fever, headache, muscle ache, and upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and coughing. However, for COVID-19 infections, there may be additional specific symptoms, such as anosmia (the lack of the ability to smell), ageusia (the lack of the ability to taste) and shortness of breath.
Symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu appear at different times and have some differences. COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure; flu symptoms usually appear about one to four days after exposure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the viruses that cause COVID-19 and the flu spread in similar ways. They can both spread between people who are in close contact (within 2m). The viruses spread through respiratory droplets or aerosols released through talking, sneezing or coughing. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby or be inhaled. These viruses can also spread if a person touches a surface with one of the viruses on it, and then touches his or her mouth, nose, or eyes.
CAUSE FOR WORRY?
If you do catch COVID-19, you would be in a better position if you didn’t also get the flu, as a simultaneous infections would further tax your immune system, advised David Edwards, an aerosol scientist and bioengineering professor at Harvard University, in an interview with Channel NewsAsia. However, he feels the odds of catching flurona are not great.
“The probability of both of those things happening at the same time is sort of like the probability of getting robbed by two people on the same day,” stressed Edwards. “It happens, but it’s not like people should think, ‘Oh, there’s gonna be this flurona that’s going to overtake Omicron.’ That’s not going to happen.”
Experts advise that the best way to protect yourself is to continue with the following steps:
- wearing a high-quality mask
- keeping a distance from other people
- taking booster shots
- getting the flu shots
Other protective measures include covering your coughs and sneezes, keeping indoor spaces well-ventilated, hand washing, and keeping unwashed hands away from the face.
A healthy lifestyle, such as getting enough sleep and engaging in regular exercise, can also help boost immunity.
If your COVID-19 symptoms are mild, focus on getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of water, and using over-the-counter medications when necessary. If you experience worsening symptoms or have difficulty breathing or persistent chest pain, see a doctor immediately.