How to know if COVID-19 or flu? Experts reveal challenges

As the UAE marks the end of summer, there will be more challenges to safeguard one’s health in the upcoming flu season, especially amid the health crisis posed by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to experts.

Richard Kennedy, the co-director of Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group, told The Filipino Times that it will be difficult to distinguish the flu or influenza from COVID-19 because they have almost the same characteristics and features.

“This year, we will be facing both influenza and COVID-19, so it is even more important to protect ourselves against influenza. At this point, we do not know if people who are infected by both influenza and SARS-CoV-2 have worse disease,” he said.

Richard Kennedy, the co-director of Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group

Kennedy added that people should also realize that they can be infected by both viruses at the same time, which he said can “increase disease severity.”

He also stressed that both influenza and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses that share numerous symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue (tiredness), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, and headache. Even loss of taste or smell, Kennedy said, can be present in both viruses—making it even hard to distinguish which is which.

“Both COVID-19 and flu may lead to complications such as pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, cardiac injury, sepsis, and multiple organ failure,” added Dr. Arlene Adarne Dagondon, a General Practitioner at NMC Deira.

“The only sure way to tell which one you have is to be tested by your health care provider.  Please note that you can be infected with both viruses at the same time,” said the doctor.

The expert also noted that both viruses can be spread the same way—by droplets (caused when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks), through human contact (shaking hands), or by touching objects that have the virus on it.

He, however, asserted that there are some things in which the two differ among each other. While influenza symptoms begin one to four days after infection, for COVID-19, some studies show that the symptoms begin after five to 14 days—sometimes, none at all. The transmission with influenza, in addition, lasts for about seven days, while with COVID-19, it is at least 10 days (although more research is still needed to verify this).

Dagondon, meanwhile, told The Filipino Times that COVID-19 may include complication such as blood clots in the blood vessels and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

With this, Kennedy has recommended one way to solve the problem with influenza so as it does not provide more confusion with COVID-19 among people.

“The best way to prepare for influenza season is to get the influenza vaccine.  This is the most important piece of advice that people should hear,” he said. “The vaccine is not always a good match for the virus strain that is circulating and causing disease.  However, even in years when it is a bad match, the vaccine still provides partial protection and can prevent serious illness and hospitalization.”

Dagondon also stressed the importance of flu shots as they will reduce the risk, severity and serious complications of the virus.

Kennedy added that other things that can be done to prevent illness include wearing a mask, washing hands often, using hand sanitizer often, not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and disinfecting work and living areas (countertops, tables, chairs) regularly.

Meanwhile, Dagondon said: “Generally we can prepare for the flu season by keeping our body healthy. Having a healthy lifestyle like eating healthy food, exercising regularly, and having enough sleep are all important to have a competent immune system. For those who have chronic medical conditions, taking medications regularly and following treatment plan as advised by their doctors are also required to keep and maintain their health stable and competent.”

Jamille Domingo

Jamille Domingo gathers stories on a wide array of topics, particularly on the Philippines, UAE, Saudi, and Bahrain—which are published on The Filipino Times Newspaper, The Filipino Times Website, and The Filipino Times Newsletter. She also presents the news on cam in the pre-recorded daily broadcast of The Filipino Times Newsbreak—a run-through of the most important events of the day, reaching 5,000 to 20,000 views—to deliver stories to audiences inclined to audio-visual content online. For recommendations and story pitches, you can reach her at [email protected]

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