Flu in the times of Coronavirus: How to stay safe?

COVID-19, the notorious viral infection has affected millions of lives around the globe. The exponential growth in the number of infected individuals seems very scary.  Yes! We are going through a tough time and are struggling to clear the thick infected air which already surrounds us. Although the emerging growth scenarios are alarming, specific precautions, early detection and timely treatment may reduce the risk of transmission and fatal consequences. In this gloomy situation, the arrival of flu season in India with a host a seasonal disease is throwing new challenges.

Despite the forecast, preparations, and precautions to fight against COVID-19, there are other existing seasonal illnesses like influenza, which is raising concerns and creating panic among the common people. Especially when the symptoms of Covid-19 and influenza are somewhat similar, it gets difficult for people to respond appropriately. However, there are a lot of differences in terms of mode of transmission, spread, complications, risk factors, and treatment options in both the conditions. Let’s understand and find how to stay safe during the unfolding pandemic and flu season in this article.

Similarities between COVID-19 and Influenza:

Well! Both COVID-19 and Influenza (flu) display similarity in the way of transmission. Both are contagious diseases transmitted through respiratory droplets, via the mouth or nose of someone who is sick, physical contacts, and fomites. Both COVID-19 and influenza are caused by virus, but the causative agent is different; COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus, whereas flu by the influenza virus.

Differences between COVID-19 and influenza:

Here, we have compiled some important differences between COVID-19 and influenza:

Signs and symptoms: Both COVID-19 and influenza present similar symptoms like sore throat, chills, fever, difficulty in breathing, cough, runny nose, fatigue, muscle pains, body aches, headaches and nasal congestions. But, additional COVID-19 symptom includes experiencing a change in or loss of smell and taste. The variation in symptoms of Covid-19 is rapid and still under research. Sometimes Covid-19 infection even remains asymptomatic.

Speed of transmission: The COVID-19 pandemic is observed to have a super spreading nature than the flu. This means the COVID-19 virus spreads quickly and easily affects many people who come in contact with the infected individuals.

Incubation period: Longer incubation period of 1 to 14 days is seen in COVID-19 individuals who can shed the virus to others even when they are asymptomatic. Whereas, in case of flu, shorter incubation of 3 to 4 days as well as pre-symptomatic transmission is possible.

Risk of transmission in children: Children are very much vulnerable to contract influenza virus, whereas initial studies suggest that, children between the age group of 0-19 are less affected with COVID-19 than elders. However, the confirmatory studies are still underway and cases of covid-19 infection among children have been witnessed across the world.

Complications: Both COVID-19 and influenza can exhibit complications like pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory syndrome, cardiac injury, worsening of already existing medical conditions like diabetes, TB, kidney disease, lungs, nervous system, and inflammation of heart, brain or muscle tissues etc. However, a few additional complications are seen in individuals with COVID-19 like a blood clot in veins and arteries of lungs, legs, heart or brain.

Risk of infection: Children, pregnant women, elders, immunosuppressed individuals and those with underlying medical conditions are easily susceptible to the flu virus. Whereas, according to the current research findings, older age people and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions are severely impacted with COVID-19 infection experiencing fast progression.

Mortality rate: The data so far indicates that the mortality rate of COVID-19 appears higher, whereas the death rate attributed to influenza is substantially very less.

Medical intervention: Scientists are working round-the-clock to find vaccines for COVID-19 and are now in the pre-clinical stage of development and research, whereas influenza vaccines are currently available in the market and it is highly recommended to get vaccinated every year for prevention against influenza infection.

Diagnosis of Influenza and Covid-19

 Viral tests and antibody tests are available to detect COVID-19 infection, but for the influenza outbreak, a rapid molecular assay is carried out to detect the genetic material of the virus. The healthcare provider swipes the inside of the nose or the back of the throat with the swab and sends to the laboratories to check if you are a suspect for the flu or COVID-19 infection. Influenza, during the outbreak season, is mostly diagnosed by watching the signs and symptoms.

Healthy habits to stay safe from COVID-19 and the flu

Though many countries are experiencing increasing outbreaks, there are chances to reduce the risk of getting infected or avoid the spreading of infection. Here are a few simple precautions that you should follow to protect yourself from infection:

  • Get an annual flu shot to protect yourself from seasonal flu

  • Avoid heading out to crowded places

  • Maintain social distancing

  • Don’t touch your nose, mouth and eyes

  • Follow good respiratory and hand hygiene to protect yourself and others from getting sick

  • Don’t share towels, utensils, cups, bed sheets with other family members if you have any symptom

  • Avoid visitors into your home

  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces

  • Stay home and self-isolate if you develop any symptom. In case of persistent symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

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  • Keep your surroundings clean

  • Eat a healthy diet, take plenty of rest, drink adequate water and be active to stay in shape.

In a nutshell, COVID-19 and influenza are respiratory diseases caused by different pathogens and they are transmitted via infectious respiratory droplets. COVID-19 causes more severe illnesses than flu, but the pandemic crisis can be managed by following a comprehensive preventive approach put forth by the government. During this pandemic situation and the on-going seasonal variation, let’s all work together to follow good hygienic practices to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19 and flu!

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