As we approach seasonal influenza season, how will I know if my symptoms are from the flu or covid-19? If I am not sure, what should I do?

Clinical Symptoms Staying Safe

A: Spoiler alert: It will be challenging.

Many symptoms overlap between seasonal flu and COVID-19 which will unfortunately make it hard to know whether you have flu or COVID-19.

For a thorough comparison of symptoms and other clinical characteristics of flu vs. COVID-19 see here.

Symptoms common to both COVID-19 and flu include:

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

Symptoms more unique to COVID-19 include:

-Loss of taste and smell.

So what should I do if I develop any of these symptoms?

Because it can be difficult to know whether you have flu or COVID-19, if you develop ANY of these symptoms, it is best to start isolating yourself from others until you can get a COVID-19 test (once flu starts circulating in your area, you will likely be tested for flu at the same time as COVID-19 to rule this out and determine the best course of care). If you test positive for COVID-19, you should continue to follow the CDC guidelines for isolation (i.e., isolate from others until 10 days have passed since your symptoms started and you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications). Staying home when you have the flu is also recommended (until 24 hours has passed with no fever and without the use of fever-reducing medications) (see more info here). So, either way, by isolating when your symptoms start, you will help stop the spread of flu or COVID-19 (both are good!).

Even more important GET A FLU SHOT! Indeed, CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot between September to October (with a few exceptions).

See here for more info.

Why does getting a flu shot matter for COVID-19?

By getting a flu shot you:

-Will reduce the likelihood that you get the flu, decrease the severity of your illness even if you do get the flu AND help lower the odds you will end up with flu AND COVID-19 at the same time (ack!)

-Can help ward of what health experts are fearing may be a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19 starting this fall (i.e., competing demand for testing, medical resources and hospital space to care for those with flu and/or covid-19)

For these reasons, in addition to social distancing, wearing masks, washing your hands and avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated indoor spaces this fall and winter, getting the flu shot is probably one of the most important things you can do in this next phase of the pandemic.

Where can I get a flu shot?

You can arrange to get a flu shot with your regular health care provider or to find where to get a flu vaccine near you, see here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/freeresources/flu-finder-widget.html.
If I don’t have health insurance or it doesn’t cover vaccines, what options do I have for getting a flu vaccine?

If your child is Medicaid eligible, uninsured, or insured but doesn’t have vaccine coverage and/or is American Indian or Alaska Native they may qualify for the Vaccines for Children Program, which provides the flu vaccine (and others) at no cost. See here for more info.

For other information about free and low-cost vaccine options for adults, see here.

What if I still want more info?

For a nice interactive overview of the range of symptoms experienced by those with COVID-19 see here.

For FAQs about the seasonal flu shot see this helpful explainer in the NYT.

As always, our posts should not substitute for medical advice. Call your provider with any questions about the flu, flu shot or COVID-19 specific to your health condition.

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