The annual influenza epidemic is just around the corner with the winter season quickly approaching. Because the flu virus acts in similar ways to COVID-19, many are unsure of what to expect during this season. There are many preventative measures to follow to help decrease the risk of infection for either virus.
Influenza, otherwise referred to as the flu, results in many cases and deaths every year. According to the CDC, there was an estimate of 39 to 56 million influenza cases during the 2019 to 2020 flu season and an estimated 24,000 to 62,000 deaths caused by the virus. The flu has affected more people than the coronavirus. However, the mortality rate of COVID-19 is significantly higher than the seasonal flu, with nearly 300,000 deaths in the United States. COVID-19 has recorded over 7 million cases in the United States as of today.
Both viruses are comparable in appearance and with how they can cause respiratory diseases with many of the same symptoms. Some of these symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, muscle pains, headaches, a runny nose and sometimes stomach issues.
Because of how the two viruses act very similarly, it may be hard to identify which virus has caused the infection when experiencing these symptoms.
“One thing we do know is a difference, and maybe an indicator is the loss of taste or smell,” said Kelly Salazar, the Health Education Coordinator at Fullerton College. “People that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 sometimes experience loss of taste or smell that can last a couple of weeks, and so that maybe one of the big differences we’re seeing between the symptoms.”
Salazar has been at Fullerton College for over four years, and her background is in health promotion and disease prevention.
Salazar encourages everyone to follow CDC recommendations to prevent infection. “Wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid mass gatherings, wash your hands for 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands for 20 seconds, then use hand sanitizer—at least 60% alcohol or higher—avoid touching your face, make sure you’re cleaning around you.”
She notes that the preventative measures provided for COVID-19 apply to all other viruses as well, including the flu virus. Even with the ongoing pandemic, the upcoming flu season may look like previous years or even less severe.
“One thing that many public health officials are hoping for is that these prevention measures will also decrease the likelihood of having a mass flu season; because we aren’t co-mingling as much, the flu season won’t be as bad,” Salazar said.
To ensure optimum safety with both viruses going around, Salazar and Orange County Health Director Clayton Chau recommend everyone get a flu shot.
“The flu vaccine can help protect you, and if you still get the flu, research has shown that it actually can decrease the time that you’re sick and decrease some of your symptoms,” Salazar said. “Also, it can protect those around you as you may not be spreading it as long or maybe won’t catch it at all.”
Every year, the Fullerton College Health Services offers a flu shot clinic as part of the health fee included in students’ registration fees. This year, the health center is planning to provide this service again, possibly with different appointment options to ensure the safest way for students to come to campus. Students registered for classes at Fullerton College can take advantage of this service with no additional fees.
For updates on the flu shot clinic and for general information about COVID-19, the flu and other health topics, follow Fullerton College’s Health Service’s Instagram page @fchealthservices.