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5 burning questions, answered, as flu season approaches amid COVID-19 pandemic

A woman sneezing.
A woman sneezing.

It might have crossed your mind already: What might the fall look like when flu season hits, and we’re still dealing with COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has addressed some of the most important questions you have concerning the topic, but first, it’s important to know the difference between influenza and COVID-19.

Though health care workers have learned much about COVID-19, there is still a lot that remains unknown.

What could possibly be one of the scariest things about experiencing a season in which the flu and COVID-19 are running rampant is that symptoms from the two are very similar.

That leads us straight to our first question:

1. What are some distinct differences between the seasonal flu and COVID-19?

The CDC says it will be hard to tell the difference between the two by symptoms alone, so testing will be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Having said that, one symptom in COVID-19 that differs from the flu is the change in, or loss of, taste or smell.

Below are some other key differences.

There are many similarities in complications of the flu and COVID-19 that are worth noting, such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory problems
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac injury
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues
  • Multiple-organ failure
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions
  • Secondary bacterial infections.

COVID-19 can be different from the flu in that patients can also experience blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart, legs or brain, as well as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, according to the CDC.

2. Will both viruses be around, simultaneously, in the fall and winter?

It’s not possible to say with certainty, but experts with the CDC said they believe it’s likely they will both be spreading. Because of that, experts say, it will be more important than ever to get a flu vaccine.

3. Can I have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?

The CDC says it is certainly possible to have both at the same time, but experts are still studying how common that might be.

4. Is COVID-19 more dangerous than the flu?

While it’s really too early to draw any conclusions from the current data, the CDC says it does seem as though COVID-19 is more deadly than the seasonal flu. Experts say this could change as more is learned about the number of people who are infected who have mild illnesses.

5. Is it possible that a flu vaccine could protect me against COVID-19?

While the CDC is adamant that getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, it still encourages everyone 6 months of age and older to get one yearly.

“Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu but also to help conserve potentially scarce health care resources,” the site reads.

A CDC guidance was created to help immunization providers with the safe administration of vaccines during the pandemic, and it will continually be reassessed and updated based on the ever-changing epidemiology of COVID-19 in the U.S.

One note the CDC makes that’s an important one to point out is that a flu vaccine should not be given to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 -- regardless of whether they have symptoms -- until that person has met the criteria to discontinue their isolation.


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