Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board
Although the Flu virus has played second fiddle to COVID-19 this year, it too is a lethal virus. We’ve become conditioned to accepting the “statistic” that every flu season, the virus kills many thousands of Americans. Health officials say it’s particularly important this year to get the Flu shot because of the potential “double whammy” of the Flu and COVID-19 joining forces to cause widespread sickness and loss of lives.
The flu season starts in October, picks up steam from December to February and dies down from March to May. Officials fear hospitals workers will be tired, burnt-out and overburdened with the onslaught of sick people. They worry about jammed Emergency Room Departments and packed Intensive Care Units. They also worry that there will not be enough hospital personnel, enough hospital beds, protective equipment and medical supplies to adequately treat patients and protect workers.
The COVID-19 virus has dominated the medical news over the past several months and rightly so. As of August 31 of this year, there are 6.03 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 183 thousand deaths in the USA! These are not just unacceptable numbers. Experts lament the “thousands” of the lives lost that could have been saved.
During the 2019-2020 influenza-flu season, the CDC estimated between 39 and 56 million people in the U. S. were infected with the flu virus. There were 24,000 to 62,000 flu-related deaths and 740,000 hospitalizations. The linkage of these two destructive viruses could shake the foundation of the health care system in the U. S. There are harmful similarities between the influenza virus and COVID-19, also referred to as SARS-CoV-2.
What do the Flu and COVID-19 Have in Common?
The Flu and COVID-19 are viral, contagious respiratory diseases. Both present with similar medical stories. In some instances, people talk about having the virus with no symptoms. At other times, people complain of mild to severe symptoms which may lead to hospitalization and death.
Both infections can cause fever, cough and pneumonia. Other flu-like symptoms, for instance, might include chills, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea. Because COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms, it often is necessary to test for COVID to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.
The two infections spread most often through droplets or aerosols in the air when a person coughs, talks, sings or sneezes. If you’re not practicing social distancing or using proper protection, the virus can be inhaled or land in the eye, nose or mouth. The viruses can also infect you if you touch objects or materials where the infection has landed and you then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
You can test positive for either of these viruses without having any symptoms and still transmit the disease to other people.
Both of these viruses can cause serious complications including kidney failure, heart attacks, pneumonia, stroke and death…
Antibiotics don’t work in the treatment of these diseases. Supportive care is used to manage these patients, such as, adequate fluid intake, medications to reduce fever and pain. And hospitalized patients may require oxygen and ventilation support.
Both diseases may be prevented, or significantly reduced by wearing masks, practicing physical-social distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home if you’re sick and minimizing contact with sick people. There’s a vaccine for the Flu but not one, at this time, for COVID-19.
A vaccine is a substance given to you to stimulate the production of antibodies which protect you against certain diseases. It contains a dead or weakened version of the microorganism that causes the disease without giving you the disease. The efficacy and the duration of protection vary depending on a number of factors.
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. Health authorities, political leaders are gearing up for a public campaign urging people to get the flu shot by September-October of this year.
People have reservations about getting the influenza vaccine. The flu shot doesn’t provide 100% protection but it’s your best defense against influenza. You will not get the flu by getting the flu shot. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up enough immunity to fight against the current strains of the flu virus.
You need to be vaccinated every year since antibody levels over time decline and the makeup of the flu viruses mutate (change). It’s particularly important for the elderly, pregnant women and young children to get the flu vaccine. In addition, people with chronic conditions, such as, diabetes, asthma, COPD, cancer, kidney or liver disease can benefit from the influenza vaccine by decreasing the likelihood of complications.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion people worldwide get the flu every year. The flu shot doesn’t protect you against Covid-19 but it may decrease the risk of the “double whammy.” It’s a small price to pay for better health for you and those around you.
- CDC; 2019-2020 U. S. Flu Season; April 17, 2020
- CDC; Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19; August 26,2020
- CDC; Influenza (Flu), Types of Influenza Viruses; November 19, 2019
- Mayo Clinic; Flu shot: Your best bet for avoiding influenza; April 27, 2020
This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.