(Sept. 4, 2020) The coronavirus pandemic will collide with another virus as September marks the beginning of the seasonal flu.
Nikki Morris, infectious disease supervisor at Atlantic General Hospital, said although flu season used run through April, it’s been extending as far as June in the past couple years. She added that the public flu clinics, which will begin at the end of this month, will look different this year.
“If you’re in for an appointment, we’re going to try to get you while we have you there because with covid, you don’t always come to the doctor as much as you did before,” Morris said. “If you’re there and we have a vaccine, we’re going to give it to you.”
She said the trickiest part about managing both the flu season and coronavirus pandemic will be differentiating between the two.
“There’s really only one difference that stands out, and that’s the loss of taste or smell,” Morris said. “As for fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches, and sometimes even vomiting or diarrhea, that all can be symptoms of the flu. Every one of those are symptoms of covid.”
She said one advantage is that there is point-of-care testing for the flu, meaning that it can be determined almost immediately if a patient has the flu.
Another important difference between the flu and the coronavirus is the incubation period.
“Covid — you can usually have symptoms anywhere from day two to 14 once you’ve come into contact with the virus,” Morris said. “The flu is a little bit quicker than that. Usually you have symptoms of the flu one to four days after you’ve been in contact with the virus.”
Both viruses are spread through droplets, but the coronavirus spreads more easily.
To fight against this, Atlantic General Hospital staff will be in full personal protective equipment while giving flu vaccines.
“In years past, we never had to wear eye protection to do the flu swab,” Morris said. “If we suspect a patient has the flu, everybody always gets a mask. This year, everyone’s coming in a mask.”
The flu clinics will also be drive through.
To prepare for the dual virus issue, the United States developed more flu vaccines than usual - 190 million rather than 170 million, according to Morris.
“We may see an increase of people coming out and getting vaccinated, which we’re hoping, because the flu vaccine is proven to work,” Morris said.
According to the Center for Disease and Control, last season’s flu vaccine was about 45 percent effective.
The good news, Morris said, is that the prevention strategies for the coronavirus are the same for the flu.
“It’s the same thing: cover your nose and your mouth, wash your hands, don’t touch your face,” Morris said. “And of course, the six feet, it’s the same thing.”
She suggests getting the flu vaccine by Oct. 31. Morris added that there is the high-dose vaccine for individuals 65 and older. Both the regular and high-dose vaccine are covered by Medicare.
Vaccines are available at most commercial pharmacies now and will be available through Atlantic General Hospital systems by the end of this month. The public flu clinic dates and locations have not yet been released.
“Atlantic General is trying to make them [flu clinics] friendly to the public and make them feel comfortable,” Morris said.