Mind & Body
Flu Management
11/1/2020 1:00:00 PM

Flu Management

When COVID and Flu Season Collide 

by Kristy Como Armand

Flu season is quickly approaching and with it, many questions and concerns about its interaction and overlap with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Even before the emergence of COVID, it could be difficult during flu season for people to know if their respiratory symptoms were caused by the flu, a cold, allergies or a sinus problem, " says  Darci Portie, APRN, FNPC, with Iowa Primary Care. "Now with everyone worried about a spike in COVID over the winter, which is also peak flu season, people will be even more worried about the source of their respiratory symptoms."  

Portie explains that the conditions differ in their cause. "COVID is caused by the 2019 coronavirus, and the flu is caused by any of several different types and strains of influenza viruses. Different strains circulate each year." 

Both viruses cause many of the same symptoms and are transmitted via close personal contact and through respiratory droplets, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other. All respiratory illnesses share some similar symptoms that can affect the entire respiratory system – airways, lungs and blood vessels. 

The symptoms that are most common in COVID-19 and the flu include:

  • Fever (of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Muscle pain and body aches
  • Weakness 
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness or lack of energy) 
  • Nausea or vomiting (more common in children) 
  • Diarrhea (more common in children)

Portie says there are some specific differences that have been identified that will help determine if the cause of respiratory symptoms is more likely from COVID or the flu, including:

Symptom Onset

  • The flu comes on suddenly, with symptoms appearing one to four days after infection. 
  • COVID-19 symptoms can be more gradual. While COVID-19 symptoms can develop as early as two days after you’re infected, the CDC says five days after infection is typical, and it’s possible to be infected but not show any symptoms for up to 14 days.

Cough type & severity

  • The flu usually causes a mild, dry cough
  • COVID-19 cough symptoms are more severe, usually dry, persistent and can leave you short of breath.

COVID-19 symptoms that don't typically overlap or are less common with the flu include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Shaking with chills
  • New and sudden loss of taste or smell

Portie explains that a possibility of COVID is characterized by at least two of its symptoms being present, but any one common flu symptom could be an indicator of the virus. 

Portie says if you develop symptoms and are unsure if you may have COVID or the flu, contact your doctor or see a trusted healthcare provider. "Because symptoms are so similar and can vary from person to person – the only way to confirm whether it's COVID-19 or influenza is through testing." 

She stresses that prevention for both conditions is important, especially this year when both viruses are expected to peak over the colder months. "The flu vaccine is readily available and recommended for everyone over the age of six months. There is not a vaccine available for COVID yet, so continuing to follow the preventive measures that have been in place since the virus emerged remains critical."

The Flu May Find Kids First

by Kristy Como Armand

For parents who have been worrying about protecting their children from the coronavirus pandemic since it began, the approach of flu season just adds to their stress. If you’re wondering when flu season will arrive in our area, Dr. Danielle Dixon, Pediatrician  and Epidemiologist with SWLA Center for Health Services in Lake Charles, says to keep your eyes on the children in your neighborhood. If you live in an area where there are lots of children, be extra vigilant. Experts say flu may strike your community sooner and harder than areas without children.

Influenza viruses are found in the nose and throat. Because children touch their noses, eyes and mouths often, put things in their mouths, and touch each other often during play, flu germs spread easily. There is also a lot of contact between parents or caregivers and children: holding hands, picking up, feeding, changing diapers and more. Even teenagers are not typically great hand-washers. 

"There’s no denying the fact that schools and daycare centers act as incubators for numerous communicable diseases,” says Dr. Dixon. "The good news this year is many of the same health and safety precautions taken over the last few months to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will also help prevent the spread of the flu. Although there is no way of accurately predicting how the changes brought about by the pandemic, such as wearing masks, virtual learning, increase handwashing, and crowd limitations will impact this flu season, there is no doubt these types of preventive measures should also help reduce the spread of the flu.” 

Historically, preschoolers often signal the first wave of the flu in their communities. According to a study conducted by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, children lead adults in presenting with flu symptoms. Researchers found that approximately 30 days after three- and four-year-olds started showing up in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms with the flu, adults followed. 

Another four-year study by Harvard researchers correlated winter emergency room visits of adults with flu symptoms to emergency rooms with census data for corresponding regional zip codes. Flu-like symptoms struck first and worst in the zip codes that were home to the most kids. Every one percent increase in the child population brought a four percent increase in adult ER visits. Researchers cautioned that this doesn’t mean the areas without kids are protected from flu. It just means they experience flu later and at lower rates.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone, including children over the age of six months, be vaccinated against the flu. Because the vaccine takes approximately six to eight weeks to provide full protection, Dr. Dixon says the best time to get the vaccine is before the end of November. "Flu season typically peaks between January and March, so even getting the shot as late as December will help protect children against the seasonal flu virus.”  

Dr. Dixon explains that the flu shot has not been proven to protect against COVID-19 directly. "However, the flu vaccination has many related benefits, including significantly reducing your child’s risk of getting the flu, reducing the severity of your child’s illness if they do get the flu, reducing their risk of hospitalization, and helping to protect them from the possibility of contracting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.”

For more information about the flu vaccination for children, contact the SWLA Center for Health Services location nearest you.  Visit www.swlahealth.org. 

Keep Sniffles, Sneezes, and Coughs in Check: Tips to Avoid Colds & Flu

We are well into cold and flu season, and if you haven't already, it's time to take action. Statistically, kids contract six to 10 colds each year. What can parents do to reduce the number and severity of fall and winter illnesses? 

Follow these suggestions:

Flu shot. The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone over six months of age.

Hand-washing. Germs travel like wildfire in schools. Kids often get sick after touching their eyes or noses after touching a book or a toy or another child with live cold virus germs. Teach kids to wash hands with soap and warm water. 

The "cough pocket.” That’s what kids call the crook of their arm where they’ve (correctly) learned to cough and sneeze, reducing the chances of spreading colds. 

Pack hand sanitizer and tissues in the backpacks of older kids.When to share. If you can, donate some boxes of tissues, wipes, and hand sanitizers to the classroom to help build good habits and reduce the chances of other kids spreading germs.

When not to share. You’ve told your kids that sharing is good. Not when it comes to germs. Give your children their own pens, pencils, lip balm, and lotion.

Eat, drink, and be careful. Water fountains and cafeteria trays are as much as one thousand times as germy as toilet seats. Send your kids to school with their own water and teach them not to eat anything that falls on the lunch tray. Wash hands or use hand sanitizer before eating.

Backpacks. Think of them as limos for germs. Ask your child to clean them out regularly. Wipe off spilled food or liquids. Pack food in bags or lunchboxes. Don’t let gym clothes, wet socks, gloves, and hats create a terrarium in there.

The common cold and flu are spread by direct contact with a virus, which is spread by others who are infected. Avoid public places, cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands routinely, and avoid touching common objects in public places such as door handles, counters, and keyboards. Avoid touching your face without first washing your hands. Exercise helps to boost your immune system and keeps your heart pumping and blood flowing to better fight off a virus. Eat more dark green leafy vegetables, red and yellow veggies, and more fruits to help build antioxidants to fight off viruses.

Courtesy of thesneeve.com.

Flu-Fighting Foods

We all know about washing our hands, not touching our faces, and exercising to stay healthy, but eating a nutritious diet boosts our immunity and helps us avoid that bane of cool-weather seasons – colds and flu. Eat these ten common foods to help ward off illness.

Mushrooms offer a good source of vitamin D and are underutilized immune-boosting food. In fact, clinical researchers discovered improved immune responses in cancer patients who receive chemotherapy and radiation after consuming mushrooms.

Turmeric is typically found as a bright yellow powder in the spice aisle. This immune system booster is often used in Asian curry dishes. You may also find turmeric supplements, but be careful with these - many have failed quality testing yet are still available on store shelves.

Sweet potatoes are a fall/winter favorite and are high in vitamins A and C, a one-two punch when it comes to knocking out bacteria and viruses.

Ginger helps our immune cells win the battle against colds and flu. Add fresh ginger to your stir-fry recipes or as part of a salad dressing. Researchers are discovering that fresh garlic may help kill bacteria and viruses. When possible, consume fresh garlic as opposed to relying on garlic capsules/supplements--the jury is still out as to whether these have the same effect.

Hot tea is a perfect beverage on a cold day, and it can fight off infection, as well. As an added bonus, drinking tea helps keep you hydrated.

Cinnamon provides comfort and contains essential oils that may help reduce the amount of time we spend getting over a cold or flu. Caution:  cinnamon sugar is not the same as pure cinnamon! 

Berries are naturally high in vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants, and can be enjoyed fresh or frozen. Consume whole berries, rather than in juices/smoothies, for a boost of fiber. There has been some talk that elderberries may help you recover from illnesses faster, but further research is needed.

Honey has been used as an antibiotic for centuries. It was believed that ancient Romans would apply it to their eyes when they had a bout of conjunctivitis ("pink eye”). Turns out, they were on to something. Honey has been found to prevent the growth of bacteria. Add it to your tea or as a topping on your whole grain pancakes or waffles.

Yogurt provides a good source of vitamin A, protein, and zinc, making it a great snack. Yogurt contains healthy bacteria that may protect your digestive tract from disease-causing germs. Combine yogurt, berries, and a teaspoon of honey, and you’ve got a near perfect superhero snack!

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