The 2020 flu season is gearing up to be more stressful than ever. While trying to avoid being infected with the flu is hard enough, this year we have another serious respiratory illness to contend with at the same time: Covid-19.
Both influenza (the flu) and Covid-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses. That means they affect your lungs, nose, and throat, and can easily be spread to others. Because both illnesses can cause serious health complications like pneumonia or respiratory failure but require different treatments, knowing which illness a patient has is extremely important.
So you can be prepared for the 2020-2021 season, here’s what you need to know about the flu and Covid-19:
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by one of the influenza viruses. Influenza A and B infect the nose, throat, and lungs, causing illness that can range from mild to severe. Flu symptoms often come on suddenly 1-4 days after being infected.
The most common symptoms of the flu include:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Vomiting and or Diarrhea
Most healthy patients will recover from the flu with a week of bed rest and fluids. For high-risk people, such as those over 65 or patients with underlying conditions, the flu can be dangerous – even deadly – and may require hospitalization.
Because it is a virus, antibiotics are not effective against the flu. Current treatment includes antiviral drugs and therapies to treat serious symptoms. The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get your annual flu vaccination.
Covid-19 is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The illness closely resembles the flu, affecting the same bodily areas and presenting with many of the same symptoms. Unlike the flu, Covid-19 symptoms can present anywhere from 2 to 14 days after infection and can begin gradually.
Common symptoms of Covid-19 include:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Loss of taste or smell
- Shortness of breath
Because Covid-19 is so new, the long-term health effects of the illness are not yet known. Some patients infected with the virus are asymptomatic, some experience only mild symptoms, and others require hospitalization. Those at high risk of Covid-19 complications include older patients, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women.
There is no available vaccination to treat Covid-19, and treatment options are still being tested. The NIH has created a guideline for Covid-19 treatments which is being updated as new information on the virus becomes available. Respiratory therapies like nebulizer medication and mechanical ventilators are typically used to treat serious breathing problems.
How can I tell the flu and Covid-19 apart?
Distinguishing between the flu and Covid-19 can be difficult, even for doctors. Because their symptoms are so similar, a diagnostic test is often the only way to be certain which illness you have.
Covid-19 and the flu are both extremely contagious illnesses that can cause serious health problems. You should contact your doctor immediately at the onset of respiratory symptoms and isolate yourself from others until your illness is diagnosed.