Similarities, dissimilarities between influenza, COVID-19
Megan Plete Postol
The social distancing and mask-wearing protocol the public has adopted to thwart the spread of COVID-19 has prompted many to ask whether getting an annual flu shot is necessary this year.
Influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but different viruses cause them.
COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, and it can be tricky to know the difference between the two based on symptoms alone.
The CDC says COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. It can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for a longer period of time.
“Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and your family from getting the flu,” said Alexes Bouchard, district leader at CVS Pharmacy in Syracuse. “It’s important to get the flu shot every year because the body’s immune response to the vaccine declines over time. In addition, flu viruses vary from year to year, so a new vaccine formulation is required to provide optimal protection.”
Since it takes up to two weeks for immunity to build up after getting a flu shot, the CDC recommends individuals make plans to get vaccinated as early as possible. However, it is not too late to get the flu shot, as flu season typically peaks in the winter months, Bouchard said.
No causal effect
The flu vaccine does not, and cannot, cause flu in a recipient.
“The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so people cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Minor side effects including soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever, and aches may occur,” Bouchard said. “These side effects begin soon after the shot and usually last one to two days. Almost all people who receive the influenza vaccine have no serious problems as a result of receiving it.”
COVID-19 is pushing local health care to its limits, so it’s important that citizens do what they can to protect themselves, and receiving a flu vaccine is an easy step.
“Getting a flu vaccination can also contribute to the overall health of the community and minimize impact on health care resources,” Bouchard said.
To avoid the potential double-whammy of both the flu and COVID-19, health care professionals recommend making an appointment for the flu shot.
“To ensure critical health care resources are reserved for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, it is more important than ever to keep yourself protected from contracting the seasonal flu,” Bouchard said. “In addition, individuals who are high-risk for contracting respiratory illnesses such as flu and pneumonia may also have a greater risk of complications if they contract COVID-19. To help protect you, your family and the general public from illness, the flu shot is strongly recommended.”