Flu vs. COVID-19, keeping safe from both

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- With flu season ahead, medical professionals are urging the public to get vaccinated.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 186 flu-related deaths during the 2019-2020 Influenza season. Of those deaths, just over 100 were in people 65 years or older.

Source: NCDHHS

While COVID-19 has killed close to 3,000 people this year alone, the flu is still an illness of concern for health care professionals. Symptoms of the flu COVID-19 both have similar symptoms and can be mistaken for one another. It’s why UNC Health professionals said it was important to get a flu shot to be able to rule out that virus if you are feeling ill.

“The goal is to win the respiratory viral season. That means it comes and it goes and you did not get sick,” said Dr. Cheryl Jackson, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and a Professor of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine.

Taking steps to protect yourself against flu virus can also help keep pressure off hospitals.

“There are limited resources that you have so for every bed that a patient that has influenza sits in, that’s one less bed that can be used for someone with an appendectomy that needs to happen or someone with coronavirus,” said Dr. Amir Barzin, family medicine physician at UNC Health.

UNC Health said all the things people are doing to avoid COVID-19 can also help combat the spread of the flu. If you’re child is feeling sick, it is best to keep them at home to prevent exposing them to staff or students at school.

“Layer on these other elements of wearing a mask, staying distant and washing your hands and you further your chances of staying safe,” said Dr. Barzin.

North Carolina based Vero Diagnostics and LabCorp have both announced that are introducing a combined test for COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. The move is not just a way to save resources but can more efficiently inform a patient about their illness. That in turns allows them to get into treatment quicker to have a better chance at overcoming their illness. UNC Health said they planned on doing something similar.

Dr. Jackson said the hospital system also planned on offering flu vaccines to people admitted to the ER. It’s a practice different from past years when the the hospital would refer people back to their primary care physician.

“There’s enough people that show up to the emergency room unvaccinated that it makes sense to get people and capture this group when we can,” said. Dr. Jackson.

Like coronavirus, RSV has no vaccine and it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis early on so treatments can begin.

Difference in the numbers

While influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms with similar populations at increased risk, their difference comes down to the numbers.

The 2020-2021 flu season has not begun yet. Looking at the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC estimates nationally there were up to 56 million flu cases, up to 740,000 flu hospitalizations and up to 62 thousand flu-related deaths.

So far, the CDC has nationally counted more than 6 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 189,000 related deaths. The CDC does not offer clear, up-to-date data on current hospitalizations.

Similar symptoms

Below are the symptoms the CDC lists for the flu, COVID-19 and RSV. Many of these signs are similar.

Flu Symptoms

  • Fever(often but not always) or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children

Coronavirus Symptoms

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

RSV Symptoms

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

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