Flu season during a pandemic: Knowing the difference between the flu and COVID-19

SPOKANE, Wash. — Flu season is approaching and coronavirus cases continue to rise in our community and nationwide.

Health experts say you can experience both illnesses at the same time.

Right now, we’re in the earliest part of flu season — it’s not uncommon for doctors to see flu cases as early as October, but flu season typically starts in late fall and winter.

If you get sick, especially with COVID-19 cases on the rise, how do you tell which virus it is?

Well, it doesn’t help that both have similar symptoms.

Flu and COVID symptoms

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Dr. Dan Getz, DO, the Chief Medical Officer at Providence, hopes the same measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing — will reduce the number of flu cases this year.

“I think the important message is keeping others around you safe,” said Getz. “So if you have symptoms, whether it’s common cold, or it ends up being the flu or COVID-19, again masking social distancing, hand-washing, isolating yourself from others until your symptoms resolve and getting a test. One of the hallmarks of controlling this is making sure we diagnose it early so we can prevent its spread to others in the community.”

The flu can also get really serious, just like COVID-19 can, for those who are older or have pre-existing health conditions.

But only the flu has a vaccine.

“The big reason we want to get as many people vaccinated is that it prevents that spread in the community,” said Getz. “And as we’re dealing with increasing incidents of COVID-19 in our hospitals throughout the region, including North Idaho, it’s really important that we can dedicate our resources to caring for those patients that require hospitalization.”

While there are similarities in symptoms, there are a few differences between COVID-19 and the flu.

But some of the differences are dangerous, COVID-19 symptoms take longer to onset and you can even be asymptomatic.

Flu and COVID differences

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Again, the most important difference is that a flu shot is available while there isn’t one for COVID-19 at this time.

Because symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can feel similar, Dr. Getz says it’s best to stay home if you’re feeling sick and get tested for COVID-19.

You can find more information about the flu and getting a flu shot from Providence here.