An MD shares what you should know ahead of flu season during a global pandemic
Unfortunately, many flu symptoms can look very similar to the coronavirus, which can be downright confusing if you start to get sick. Thankfully, there is already a vaccine for the flu. Scientists are working on a vaccine for COVID-19 — but it’s not likely going to be available until early 2021.
As we head into the upcoming flu season in the midst of a pandemic, I consulted Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead at Forward to help shed some light on what you need to know about both viruses and what to do if you get sick.
“This is going to be a really challenging flu season because it’s very difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu based on symptoms alone. We don’t have a great way of differentiating the two other than testing, and as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, our COVID-19 testing capacity in the US is currently a disaster,” Dr. Favini said.
One the other hand, flu testing is available to most people and provides results quickly. The problem is if someone is sick and tests negative for the flu, you still need to know if they have COVID-19. “Rapid flu testing is widely available, but that won’t be sufficient, because someone who is negative for flu could have COVID-19 or any other of a number respiratory illnesses that circulate in the fall and winter,” Dr. Favini says. The CDC also says it’s possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
The FDA recently granted emergency use authorizations to several medical testing companies for a combination diagnostic test that can detect COVID-19 and the flu with a single sample. “With just one swab or sample, combination tests can be used to get answers to Americans faster. This efficiency can go a long way to providing timely information for those sick with an unknown respiratory ailment,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn said in the press release. However, we don’t know when combination tests will be available or how widely they will be distributed across the country.
Keep reading to learn more about the difference between the flu and COVID-19, and the signs and symptoms to look for.