While no one knows exactly how it will turn out, it’s safe to say that the United States is entering a flu season unlike any other.
COVID-19 is still on the rise across much of the country. And while experts believe flu rates may be lower than usual (more on that in a moment), we will still have to collectively tackle multiple contagious respiratory diseases at the same time. A “twindemic” if you like.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is “likely” that influenza-causing viruses and COVID-19-causing viruses will both circulate this fall and winter. It̵
Don’t fall victim to lies. Here are five big misconceptions people have about disease, which everyone must unlearn as we enter flu season and a possible second wave of COVID-19:
Myth: the flu won’t be a problem because we wear masks.
Doctors “are hoping – but not betting – for a lighter flu season this year, as people practice physical distancing, wearing masks, and better hand hygiene,” said Dr. Timothy Laird, interim medical director of Health First Medical Group.
Sometimes you can do pretty much everything right: dress up, keep social distance, wash your hands, and still catch a virus. This is why layering of preventive measures is so important. People can get the flu by touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated with flu viruses (which is also true with COVID-19, although this is not the primary mode of transmission).
“Everything we’re doing reduces the risk,” said Dr. Aaron Milstone, epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “It doesn’t eliminate the risk.”
(But mask the skeptics, take note: this doesn’t mean you should leave your face covered at home. Experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a mask is much better than nothing for reducing transmission.)
Myth: The flu shot could make you sick, weak, or more vulnerable to COVID-19.
The persistent claim that the flu shot can give you the flu isn’t true, experts say. However, you may develop a flu reaction to the vaccine (including muscle aches and fever) as your body produces antibodies.
“You may have a sore arm, maybe even feel a little sore or have a low-grade fever or sore throat,” Laird said. “But this is not a disease, it is a side effect experienced by a small number of people with almost any vaccination.”
There are a few other possibilities you might get sick after vaccination: you might catch the flu in the two-week window between taking the vaccine and the time it takes effect. Or you could get sick if you are exposed to a flu virus that is not a good match to those used in this year’s vaccine.
But the vaccine itself will not give you a disease. This is a key misconception to clear up now for anyone reluctant to get the vaccine due to concerns that the injection will make them sick and weaken their immune systems amid a pandemic, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. He will not.
On the other hand, it is It is possible to contract COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, which could be “catastrophic” for the immune system, some experts warn. So getting a flu shot is especially important.
Myth: the flu shot could “ruin” a COVID-19 vaccine.
If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available during flu season, after you’ve already received your flu shot, “there should be no problem getting a later vaccine anytime this winter,” Milstone said.
“We give vaccines together all the time,” he explained. “The only time we sometimes worry about separating vaccines with any time is when we give a live viral vaccine.”
For example, doctors could distance other vaccinations around the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine so that patients get the full immune response. But all of the currently available injectable flu vaccines aren’t live vaccines, Milstone said, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Myth: COVID-19 and the flu are essentially the same thing.
Despite President Donald Trump’s constant claims that the flu and COVID-19 are so similar that they are fundamentally the same, this is absolutely not true.
This is not true in terms of the effect on the body; it is not true in terms of how long people are contagious or how contagious various viruses are; nor is it true in terms of who tends to get really sick.
“There is a difference epidemiologically,” Milstone said.
It is not even true for death counts. About 34,000 people died in the United States during the 2018-2019 flu season, which really recovered in November and pretty much ended in February. In contrast, more than 211,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States in the past seven months. And unlike the flu, which tends to strike in the winter, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise throughout the summer.
Distinguishing the difference has implications for everything: from how doctors might observe more serious developments to how long someone needs to quarantine and how people who have come in contact with a sick individual should behave.
Myth: If I were to get sick, I would handle COVID-19 and the flu the same way.
There is certainly significant overlap in COVID-19 and flu symptoms, such as fever, chills, fatigue, and cough. They are also both highly contagious respiratory viruses. So, in a way, yes, a person who gets sick with the flu could behave more or less like a person who gets COVID-19.
“There are some common principles to keep in mind. First, you are contagious, “Laird said.” Protect others. Wear a mask if around them. Everyone should practice excellent hand hygiene and you should isolate yourself as much as possible. Second, hydrate and rest. “
But knowing which particular virus you have will likely change how you proceed further. Researchers are still struggling with exactly how long someone can spread COVID-19, but they believe the period of contagion is longer than with the flu. With the flu, people are generally allowed to return to the world after they have been free of fever for 24 hours; with COVID-19, at least 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms is the individual has been fever-free for at least 24 hours.
This is one of the reasons doctors, like Milstone, argue that people who develop symptoms are particularly diligent about getting tested this season.
“I think most people will need to get a test result to know: when can I safely return to work, school, daycare, etc.,” Milstone said.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what is known or available at the time of publication, but the guide may change as scientists learn more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.