Flu Symptoms vs. COVID-19: What You Need to Know (and when to seek medical treatment)

Cold weather months in Michigan usually mean holiday cheer, sledding from the tallest hilltops, ice skating on nearby ponds, and snowmobiling through the woods.

Unfortunately, it also means the start of the dreaded flu season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season typically peaks between December and March, but cases may still occur as late as April or May. In fact, the flu never goes away, but it relies on winter’s cold to thrive.

“Influenza needs cool, dry temperatures to survive, which is why we see an influx in cases in the winter months and a decline in the warmer summer months,” said Dr. Hassan Nasir, an Allergy and Immunology specialist with Memorial Healthcare.

This year is unique in the sense we will likely experience a double-whammy of flu season while simultaneously dealing with the current second wave of COVID-19, resulting in a “twindemic.” Healthcare providers, like Memorial Healthcare, are concerned with how this will impact hospital capacity.

“The last thing we want right now is to overwhelm our healthcare systems,” Dr. Nasir said. “Having too many patients to treat and not enough medical staff, beds, or supplies to treat them with is a scenario we must avoid.”

So, how can you help?

First, get a flu shot – and continue to follow CDC-recommended guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19, like wearing a mask and social distancing.

While it may seem counterintuitive to get a flu shot if you are following COVID-19 guidelines, think of it as an additional layer of protection, like wearing a seatbelt even though your car has airbags.

Next, understand the differences between flu symptoms and those of COVID-19.

Flu symptoms may differ from person-to-person, but generally include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)

While COVID-19 shares many of these symptoms, there are some that are unique to COVID-19, including:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell

Given how similar the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are, it may be difficult to self-diagnose. Consult a medical professional if you are experiencing:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent chest pressure or pain
  • Blue lips and/or face
  • New confusion
  • An inability to stay awake

Dr. Nasir warns that these are merely guidelines, and that it’s ultimately up to each individual to determine when to seek medical care.

“When in doubt, contact your primary care physician,” he said. “They can help you assess your symptoms and make proper recommendations for how to proceed – whether that’s going to the emergency room, getting a COVID-19 test, or simply taking some over-the-counter medications. Your doctor is there to help.”

Many healthcare providers, like Memorial Healthcare, offer telehealth services so you can connect with your doctor over your phone or tablet without having to go into the office. If you prefer an in-person appointment, be sure to call ahead and alert them to the reason for your visit.

Dr. Nasir also says to contact your healthcare provider immediately if you knowingly come into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

“We need to prevent further spread of both COVID-19 and the flu to stop our healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed, and each one of us can play a part in keeping our friends, families, and communities safe.”

For more information on COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website. To schedule a COVID-19 test through Memorial Healthcare, please contact (989) 729-6422.


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