The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the leaves are turning and the temperature is dropping. It’s another lovely fall day, but what does that mean for those of us in healthcare? 

October is when we expect the flu season to start, and we have to make sure our flu shots are up to date for our staff and our clients. In 2020, the expected flu season is coinciding with COVID-19 and the expectation for catastrophic infection rates is high.

When we talk about flu, we are not talking about GI issues or the misnomered “stomach flu.” That’s something else. We are talking about respiratory symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, fever. Sound familiar? 

”Influenza” is an Italian term. It’s short for “Influenza delle Stelle,” or “Pull of the Stars,” a term that dates back to 1580, when the stars aligned to give Europe the first widely recognized flu pandemic. 

Both the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, but the defining factors are significant and there are few. If you have a cough, fever, malaise, fatigue, sore throat or other symptoms, only a test can tell you which virus you have.

An infection from the influenza virus shows up as illness within one or two days of being infected. COVID can take two weeks to produce symptoms, or it may not produce observable symptoms at all.

Viruses are  nanoparticles — they’re really small. Smaller than any cell. It would take 400 COVID particles to span the width of a hair. Because it’s so small, it can hang in the air where an infected person was for up to three hours.

What happens when both COVID and flu hit at the same time? 

Right now, we know that COVID-19 causes all of the symptoms mentioned, but COVID spreads more readily and causes more serious illness than flu. People with COVID-19 can be contagious longer. There’s no vaccine for COVID. It can cause sepsis, encephalopathy, cardiac injury, blood clots and other  unexpected issues that clinicians are still discovering. 

The flu is more of a “hit and run.”

COVID + flu = devastation for the immune system. And if you’re infected with one, you’re more vulnerable to the other. Having both illnesses at once increases the risk for long-term, permanent damaging effects.  

So what’s the good news? We are all wearing masks. The Southern Hemisphere is just ending its winter months and the incidence of flu has been remarkably low. People have been wearing masks and social distancing, so not as many are getting the flu. 

To prevent a devastating “twindemic” in the coming season, it’s imperative to get those flu vaccines going, wear masks and continue all of our efforts to prevent the spread of any viral disease. This is going to get better if we just keep doing what we’re doing.

We can’t give up because we’re tired of COVID. We have to keep going because we’re tired of COVID.