Covid-19? Influenza?

December 17, 2020

Wondering what the differences are between COVID-19 and Influenza, more commonly known as "the flu"? Or if a subtle tickle in your throat could mean the first sign that you got this year's public enemy number one, COVID-19? With 2020 being the first year that the world faces a "twindemic" season, it is crucial to know the differences between COVID-19 and Influenza, the risk they pose together, independently, and why a flu shot might save your life during this global pandemic.


What is the difference between Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19?

Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses.

  • COVID-19 is caused by infection from a new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)
  • Flu is caused by infection from an influenza virus, and there are a variety of them, often different ones each year.

With COVID-19 and the flu being respiratory illnesses, they have many similarities. Your doctor will want to test you for both COVID-19 and the flu to rule out COVID-19 and make sure you get treated properly. The critical difference between these two respiratory illnesses is that COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu, has a different incubation period, and the period in which you are contagious is longer. If you haven't guessed it, COVID-19 lingers longer than the flu and has resulted in more deaths and serious complications. Below we have listed the similarities and differences for you to compare and use as a reference, as created by the CDC.


Similarities:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting & diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

Differences:

Flu: Causes mild to severe illness, including common signs and symptoms above.

COVID-19: Causes more severe illnesses in some people. In addition to the common signs and symptoms listed above, you may also experience a change in or loss of taste and smell. It can cause significant longer-term complications impacting organs such as the lungs, heart, and cardiovascular system.

The most important takeaway when comparing the two respiratory illnesses is that there is a vaccine to protect against the flu that is readily available. There are day-to-day practices you can integrate into your lifestyle to boost your immune system. Taking these two steps to protect your health and wellness as THE world awaits access to a COVID-19 vaccine will minimize your infection rate and put your health in good standing in the state of a global pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccine is beginning its roll-out now to health care workers and older adults in long-term care facilities, but it will be well into 2021 before all Americans can get vaccinated. We will talk more about the vaccine in a future HealthACR Insight.

A commonly asked question we hear associated with receiving the flu vaccine is whether it can protect against COVID-19, the answer is NO. However, being protected against the flu, even reducing the flu's severity if the strain you get is different from the one in the vaccine, will help boost your immune system adding to your ability to resist COVID-19. Moreover, our healthcare system is already stressed to its capacity dealing with severely ill COVID patients. Anything that can be done to reduce additional stress on it by adding severely ill flu patients AND keeping you away from exposure to COVID-19 patients should you become severely ill with the flu is beneficial all around. You can indeed contract COVID-19 and the flu simultaneously, raising your risk for hospitalization and negative outcomes for you including possible long-term conditions or even death.

Given the current and projected stressors on our healthcare system, anything you can do to protect your health so that you can stay clear of any need for a hospital is in your best interest! If you have not contracted the flu or COVID-19 yet, keep it that way! And more and more data shows that the 3 Ws:WEARING a mask (especially indoors), WASHING your hands often and WATCH your distance, maintaining at least 6 feet from others, are the best ways to stay safe and healthy!

Important information about the flu vaccines

  • Flu Shot: Most vaccines are given with a hypodermic needle, usually in the arm. Some are given via the jet injector. The jet injector is a medical device that uses a high-pressure, narrow stream of fluid to penetrate the skin instead of a hypodermic needle. It is approved for individuals between the ages of 18 - 64 years old.
  • Trivalent Flu Vaccine: Protects against three different flu viruses.
  • Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine: Protects against four different flu viruses.
  • High-Dose Flu Vaccine: Contains 4x the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses) compared to your average flu shot. Licensed specifically for people 65 years and older.
  • Cell-Based Flu Vaccines: Grown in cultured cells of mammalian origin instead of in hens' eggs.
  • Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine: Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) is given as a nasal spray rather than an injection. This year this vaccine is quadrivalent and approved for people ages 2-49.
  • Adjuvanted Vaccine: In conjunction with the vaccine, ingredients are added to strengthen the immune response—licensed specifically for people 65+.
  • Recombinant Flu Vaccines: Vaccine is produced using a method that does not require an egg-grown vaccine virus and is used for people who may have allergies to eggs.

Which strains does the 2020-2021 flu vaccine protect you from?

With the many different flu viruses that are continually changing, the CDC is constantly monitoring changing strains of Influenza around the world. Each year specialists suggest which will be the most common to be included in the vaccine. The vaccine protects against 3 or 4 virus strains, depending on the vaccine. This year they are:

  • A/Guangdong-Maonan/SWL1536/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus 
  • A/Hong Kong/2671/2019 (H3N2)-like virus
  • B/Washington/02/2019 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus 
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus
  • A/Hong Kong/45/2019 (H3N2)-like virus (updated)
  • A/Hawaii/70/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated)

It is important to understand that the flu vaccine is not perfect. Most years it is between 40% and 60% effective at preventing the flu. The most common myth is, "the vaccine gives you the flu." This statement is NOT TRUE. If you get the flu, it will likely be a strain of Influenza not included in the vaccine that particular year. The silver lining to receiving the vaccination regardless of the chance of infection is that your symptoms will be milder because vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness or death. Many pharmacies and clinics offer readily available flu vaccines. To locate a reliable source near you, click this handy "Vaccine Finder."


As 2021 approaches, it brings hope to a new beginning with approved vaccinations and a plan to get COVID-19 under control. The initial roll-out of the vaccine is beginning now and will be prioritized for those in need of it most. This reinforces the personal responsibility each of us has to manage our own virus risk. My team will do our best to update you on the latest information regarding the virus and the vaccine. Follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook to receive these updates!

We wish you a Happy, Healthy, and Peaceful holiday season!


-Lee

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. “Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19​.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Oct. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm.
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. “Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2020-2021 Season.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 Dec. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm.
Leonhardt, D. (2020, December 04). The New York Times The Morning. Retrieved from https://messaging-custom-newsletters.nytimes.com/template/oakv2?uri=nyt%3A%2F%2Fnewsletter%2F556dab01-be5b-500d-8022-8ad352dd3fd9
Merchant, Elise, and Wendy Stead. “Time for Flu Shots - Getting One Is More Important than Ever!” Harvard Health Blog, 17 Sept. 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/time-for-flu-shots-getting-one-is-more-important-than-ever-2020091720972.
NCDHHS COVID-19 Response. “Know Your Ws: Wear, Wait, Wash.” 19, covid19.ncdhhs.gov/materials-resources/know-your-ws-wear-wait-wash.
Thompson, Stuart A. Find Your Place in the Vaccine Line. 3 Dec. 2020, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/03/opinion/covid-19-vaccine-timeline.html.
University of Maryland Medical System. “Boost the Immune System.” University of Maryland Medical System, 2020, www.umms.org/coronavirus/what-to-know/managing-medical-conditions/healthy-habits/boost-immune-system.

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Disclaimer: The contents of HealthACR Insights are intended to provide information we hope you find interesting, timely and useful. We carefully research the topics using reliable, highly regarded sources. Citations are provided. We in no way intend to offer clinical advice that you should use to make treatment decisions. Please consult appropriate professionals. HealthACR, LLC is available to help you identify potential options and find providers to meet your needs.

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