First published by NSC.
Flu season is here, along with the additional risks posed by COVID-19. These viruses each pose serious dangers, making it crucial to prepare for both and take preventive steps to keep yourself and those around you safe.
Preliminary estimates from the CDC report that about 34,000 Americans died from the flu last year, with a typical flu season ranging from around October to as late as May. COVID-19, meanwhile, has killed over 229,000 Americans since early 2020. As the normal flu season ramps up, the potential for spread, infection and confusion around these viruses will increase. While you might consider a flu shot and cough syrup an adequate response to the flu in a regular year, those steps are not enough this year. Each of us must take action to avoid infection, limit the spread of these viruses and keep each other safe.
Key Differences in Signs and Symptoms
To prevent the spread of viruses this flu season, you must be able to spot the signs and symptoms of a typical cold, the annual flu and COVID-19. According to the CDC, there are some similarities and differences between a cold and the flu, and between the flu and COVID-19.
With a cold:
- Symptoms may be gradual
- Most common symptoms include sneezing, a stuffy nose and a sore throat
- It is rare to experience a fever or headache
With the flu:
- Symptoms show up abruptly
- Common symptoms include a fever, aches, fatigue, chest discomfort and a headache
- It is less common to experience sneezing, a stuffy nose or a sore throat
- Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus
- Common shared symptoms with the flu include a fever, aches, fatigue and a headache
- Common symptoms different from the flu can include change in or loss of taste or smell
Some of these overlapping symptoms can be confusing, but it’s important to keep in mind that each person’s experience with a cold, the flu or COVID-19 may be different. Symptoms may be more severe or, in some COVID-19 cases, there may be no symptoms at all. That is why, whether working remotely or in a traditional workplace, spotting these signs in yourself or others – or learning you were in contact with someone with COVID-19 – should spur you to action.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, the CDC recommends quarantining at home and contacting your health care provider for additional guidance. The same goes if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19. Talk to your supervisor about working from home or taking time off to keep yourself and your co-workers safe. It can be difficult to decide whether you need to get tested for COVID-19, but the CDC has a tool to help. The Coronavirus Self-Checker allows you to enter your symptoms and other information to help determine whether you should get tested or access additional medical care.
If you get the flu, the CDC recommends:
- Staying home and resting
- Avoiding contact with people who are not sick, including those in your home
- Drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration
If you are caring for someone with the flu but you don’t have it, the CDC recommends:
- Avoiding close contact with the sick individual as much as possible
- Washing your hands frequently with soap and water
- Using an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water aren’t easily available
See more CDC recommendations, including a list of flu symptoms that may require immediate medical care and take a look at this article from the winter issue of Family Safety & Health® magazine for additional information on the differences between symptoms.