Influenza and COVID-19
By: Paula Brinn
COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we address infection control. Healthcare organizations are challenged with preventing the spread of this highly contagious virus within healthcare and continue to care for patient’s other healthcare needs. The stress of preventing healthcare associated infections is at an all-time high and organizations are placing resources into infection control to prevent outbreaks within their facilities. To add fuel to the fire, influenza season is fast approaching. Flu season for North America typically begins in the fall months and ends in the late winter with a peak in infections typically noted between December and February according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The current COVID-19 pandemic creates concern for this flu season for how the flu season will impact healthcare. In 2020, it is more important than ever before to reduce incidence of the flu to help reduce the burden on healthcare and potentially reduce utilization of medical resources in a time when resources are already stretched thin.
It is believed that many of the infection prevention strategies implemented for COVID-19 will potentially reduce the incidence of the flu for the 2020-2021 year. Strategies to prevent the spread of the flu include social distancing, wearing a mask, and frequent hand hygiene, to name a few. However, the most effective way to prevent the spread of the flu is vaccination. The more people vaccinated, the more likely we are to reduce the spread of the virus and potentially reduce the effects of the virus on those who are infected.
It is important to understand the symptoms associated with both the flu and COVID-19. This is challenging since the symptoms for both infections are similar. Symptoms for both include stuffy or runny nose, cough, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, or headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, lack of energy, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The flu can also lead to shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. These symptoms typically only last 5 days with influenza, however malaise can last up to 2 weeks. COVID-19 symptoms are similar but can last up to 2 weeks in milder cases and 6 weeks in moderate to severe cases. Both influenza and COVID in extreme cases can lead to death.
One concern for many healthcare providers is the risk of both infections simultaneously. Since COVID-19 and influenza are caused by 2 different viruses, one can be infected with both at the same time. The virus that causes flu is the influenza virus while COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV 2 virus. Both are respiratory infections that can result in pneumonia. Little is known about the morbidity and mortality associated with these infections simultaneously.
In conclusion, the most effective way to limit the spread and the effects of the influenza virus is to get vaccinated. Additionally, to help prevent the spread of influenza and COVID-19 practice social distancing, wash hands frequently, avoid large gatherings, wear masks, and avoid touching your face or other’s face. When feeling ill, stay home and limit contact with others. Disinfect high touch services with an alcohol-based disinfectant or one approved by the EPA to kill the influenza and COVID viruses. Lastly, ensure resources for infection control measures are from reliable nationally recognized sources. Always, challenge your assumptions and confirm with the source of truth.