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Published on September 11, 2020

Four Things to Know about Influenza Season during COVID-19

The year 2020 is presenting many different challenges and concerns for people across the world. With the influenza season upon us, and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continuing to be a very real concern, many are left feeling anxious and uneasy. 

To help alleviate the stress, Steven Spencer, MD, medical director, Population Health, Abington – Jefferson Health, dives into the top things patients need to know about the upcoming influenza season.

COVID-19 vs. Influenza Symptoms

As many know, the symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 are very similar. People with either virus can experience the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Muscle pains
  • Headaches
  • Some may have vomiting or diarrhea

“It will be very difficult to distinguish between the two, based on only clinical symptoms,” Dr. Spencer states. “The most common symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and myalgias, are also very common in influenza.”

While the symptoms are very similar, there are important differences to note. If a patient has COVID-19, he or she could experience a change in or loss of taste or smell. Symptoms of COVID-19 also could take longer to develop than influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average a person will develop COVID-19 symptoms five days after being infected, while influenza symptoms develop one to four days after infection.

The best way to determine the virus a patient is suffering from would be to test for influenza and/or COVID-19. A test for either or both would give a more definitive diagnosis.

Face Masks and Influenza

In attempt to decrease the transmission of COVID-19 through community spread, government orders have been established for Pennsylvanians to wear masks upon leaving the house. Coupled with frequent handwashing and social distancing, we could see less COVID-19, as well as other illnesses that spread the same way.

“Masks are very effective at reducing transmission of respiratory infections,” Dr. Spencer explains. “One benefit of the safety requirements that are necessitated by COVID-19 is that we could also see a reduction in other illnesses spread by respiratory droplets, which includes influenza. We are already seeing some early evidence from countries in the Southern Hemisphere that the use of masks by a majority of the population has led to drops in influenza rates.”

As the U.S. continues to implement the use of masks across the country, people could potentially see a decrease in transmission of influenza and other illnesses spread by respiratory droplets.

Influenza Prevention

“People should know that while the influenza vaccine is not 100 percent effective at preventing influenza, it also has the benefit of reducing severity of illness if a patient does develop influenza, despite getting the vaccine,” says Dr. Spencer.

Medical professionals strongly encourage the public to get influenza vaccine annually.

The influenza vaccine “has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke,” says Dr. Spencer, “which may be secondary to decreasing the body’s inflammatory load. While the elderly are at the highest risk of getting influenza, younger patients with chronic diseases could be at an equal risk.”

Abington - Jefferson Health Influenza Vaccines

In normal circumstances, the Abington – Jefferson Health physician offices administer about 45,000 influenza vaccines a year. Dr. Spencer is expecting slightly more patients will be vaccinated in 2020 because of the increased attention to influenza combined with the fear of a co-infection with COVID-19.

Abington – Jefferson Health will begin to administer influenza vaccines in all of its practices starting in September. Patients of Abington – Jefferson Health practices will receive this vaccine during a regularly scheduled appointment or a specifically designed influenza clinic.

To find an Abington – Jefferson Health primary care physician, call 215-481-MEDI or visit our website JeffersonHealth.org/Abington. Please be reassured that all of the appropriate safety precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of our patients.