Editor’s note: This article was published on October 5, 2020. COVID-19 information and recommendations are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or view our most recent COVID-19 blog posts.
With COVID-19 and influenza, standard health safety precautions are necessary to prevent the spread. These include hand hygiene, social distancing, masking or covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, and staying home when you feel sick.
“Influenza vaccination is especially important this season because we can prevent many hospitalizations from influenza during a time when hospitals may be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases,” said Dr. Edward Belongia, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute.
The flu vaccine will reduce your risk of developing influenza by about 50%, and Belongia said this year, the vaccine will have three new strains.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Several COVID-19 vaccines are in clinical trials to find out if they are safe and effective in adults. It is possible that one or more vaccines will receive emergency authorization for use in early 2021.
“The initial vaccine supply will be limited and may be restricted to priority groups such as health care personnel and essential workers,” Belongia said. “As COVID-19 vaccine supply increases, vaccination will be available for the entire population. Marshfield Clinic Research Institute will be involved in safety monitoring after the vaccine becomes available.”
Get your flu shot
The Health System offers a flu vaccine throughout the season, starting no later than October and as long as the virus is circulating (often into spring). Visit marshfieldclinic.org/flu for information and appointment options.
It’s important to get your flu vaccine as soon as possible because it can take up to two weeks for the antibodies that protect against influenza to develop in the body.
Influenza vaccine appointments are preferred, but Health System locations also offer flu clinics periodically throughout the season to make it convenient for patients and community members to get their flu shot. Visit marshfieldclinic.org/flu for information on flu clinics near you.
Severity of COVID-19 and influenza
Although anyone can contract COVID-19 or influenza, those at higher risk for severe disease include older adults, people with certain underlying medical conditions, and pregnant women. Infants and children with underlying medical conditions also are at increased risk for both influenza and COVID-19.
“Some people think children don’t get infected with COVID-19 or spread the virus,” Belongia said. “This is not true. Children can spread the virus to others, and some children have developed severe illness.”
The same is true for influenza. Children can spread the virus to others, and young children in particular are at higher risk for serious influenza complications.
Most people infected with COVID-19 or influenza will recover at home. However, some may experience severe illness or complications requiring hospitalization.
“Both infections can cause serious illness or death, but the risk of death is much higher for COVID-19 than influenza, especially in older adults,” Belongia said. “Influenza is mainly respiratory but serious COVID-19 infections often cause damage to multiple organs, including brain, heart and kidneys.”
Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, blood clots and kidney failure. Children can develop a rare but serious complication called ‘multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children’ (MIS-C).
Treatment for COVID-19 and influenza
If you do test positive for COVID-19 or influenza, follow recommendations from your provider or public health. For most mild illnesses, you should stay home, drink lots of fluids and rest until your body recovers.
If you have been diagnosed with influenza, you may be prescribed influenza antiviral drugs, especially if you are considered high risk.
If you have COVID-19, you must self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus. Isolate for at least 10 days since you first had symptoms, and you must be fever-free and symptom free for at least 24 hours before isolation is over.
During isolation, you will not have contact with others, and everyone in your household should stay home. Do not go to work or the hospital unless there is a medical emergency.
It may be helpful to track your symptoms for 14 days to let your provider know if you see any changes or have emergency warning signs. Over-the-counter medications may help with some of the symptoms like fever or cough. Talk to your provider about your options.