As battle against COVID-19 continues, upcoming flu season can’t be taken lightly

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It started out like the common cold.

Not long after that, Aggie Greek said that she started feeling worse.

By the time the 23-year-old Jacksonville resident went to see her doctor, she was convinced that she’d leave with a diagnosis of COVID-19. Even her doctor thought so.

“I was getting body aches as well on top of it,” she said. “So, then I was like, ‘All right let me just go get a thermometer.’ And then I’m like, ‘Oh God, I have 102 fever.’”

That was a month ago and the symptoms lined up with COVID-19.

It wasn’t.

As awareness of COVID-19 rises, there’s a renewed push to remind residents about the flu and what can be done to prepare for it. A city-wide campaign launching Wednesday morning has a goal of getting as many people as possible vaccinated against the flu during the lead in to fall. The collision of flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to be a dangerous mix for medical providers.

And there remains confusion between the two because the viruses share similar symptoms.

RELATED | The Center for Disease Control and Prevention list the similarities and differences between the flu and COVID-19.

Greek said that she was certain she was battling a case of COVID-19 until she went to be tested. Three tests for COVID-19 came back negative for Greek. Her doctor ordered a flu test, and it was positive.

“I was almost 100% positive. Even my doctor was almost 100% positive as well,” she said. “I was in tears every night with how horrible I felt. I had a fever of over 100 for six days in a row.”

Greek’s flu symptoms were very similar to my coronavirus symptoms.

When I first got sick in July, I initially tested negative for COVID-19. Doctors thought I had the flu. I, too, had a high fever, body aches and chest pressure. Unlike Greek’s results, my second test confirmed I had COVID-19.

Our symptoms show how easily the flu and COVID-19 can be confused, but Dr. Mohammad Taj of the Millennium Physician Group said the viruses in our bodies are very different.

“The seasonal flu can get very severe but most of the cases are mild to moderate and we have a treatment plan for it,” he said. “But with COVID, there are a lot of experimental medicines, and it can be asymptomatic to very severe.”

Both the flu and COVID-19 share similarities, which makes it easy to confuse the two. They can each cause fever, fatigue, cough, body aches and chest congestion. But there seem to be at least some distinguishing symptoms between them.

The loss of taste and smell seem to be isolated to those with COVID-19. That was something I didn’t experience myself.

Both viruses can be spread before symptoms appear. According to the CDC, the flu in “healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop.” COVID-19 may spread two days before an infected person begins showing symptoms. The World Health Organization said that “some people can test positive for COVID-19 from 1-3 days before they develop symptoms.”

The flu is also widely treatable with antiviral drugs and a vaccine. Those don’t cure the flu but often makes the sickness shorter and less severe. There is currently no proven treatment for COVID-19.

What happens when COVID-19 collides with flu season? It could lead to a big problem for health care providers.

Hospitals and doctors' offices could get much busier with sick people needing different treatments.

Taj said some companies are developing swabs to test for coronavirus and the flu strains at the same time. If a dual test isn’t available, patients may have to be tested for both since it’s medically possible to have both at the same time, Taj said.

“But we don’t have any data to compare so only time will tell,” he said.

Greek said that she learned a lesson during her time with the flu. Anything that helps to stay healthy and lessen the risk of getting sick, she’s going to do.

“I did not get a flu shot last year,” she said. “I will be getting a flu shot this year.”


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