COVID-19 infections are ticking up just as flu season begins, a worry for public health officials responding to the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know about the two respiratory illness.
What are the symptoms for influenza and COVID-19?
The respiratory illnesses share many of the same symptoms including fever, body aches, sore throat and headache. In addition to these, COVID patients also may also experience conjunctivitis, skin rash or loss of smell and taste.
How are COVID-19 and influenza spread?
The viruses are transmitted by close contact — within 6 feet — through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or speaks.
What is the major difference between the two diseases?
Individuals can spread these diseases before symptoms develop, but with COVID-19 the duration can be as long as 14 days. In some people, the coronavirus also appears to cause more serious illness.
How do you know which respiratory illness you have?
The short answer is you can’t without a test.
How accurate are COVID tests?
It depends. No test is 100% accurate. Collected with a swab from the nasal cavity, antigen tests are cheap and quick, usually within 15 minutes. A positive antigen test is considered very accurate, but it also produces a high false negative. A negative antigen result then does not rule out infection.
A polymearse chain reaction test is very accurate. A PCR, or a molecular test, is conducted by collecting fluid from the nasal, throat or saliva and is analyzed in a lab.
How long will a COVID illness last?
Most cases are mild to moderate and patients frequently recover quickly, between two to six weeks. But older, sicker patients — those who are obese, have high blood pressure, are asthmatic or have other chronic diseases — can take longer to recover.
Does a flu shot prevent COVID-19?
A flu shot protects against seasonal influenza, not COVID-19. As yet, there is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
Do I have immunity if I’ve already had COVID-19?
Yes, but health officials are uncertain how long immunity will last. Emerging research indicates an infected person is likely protective for three months. There have been cases of reinfection, but these are rare.
How effective are face masks?
Combined with frequent hand-washing and social distancing, face masks are considered effective in reducing droplets from the mask wearer, meaning it is protective of others. But not all masks are created the same. Bandanas and gaiters, for example, have been found not to be as effective.
Can I get the flu and COVID at the same time?
Yes. Getting sick by one can make patients vulnerable to the other because viruses weaken the body.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Penn Medicine, Stanford Medicine, the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, Duke University and the Associated Press