It is that time of the year when flowers are in full bloom, new shoots and buds can be spotted on trees and one can enjoy the balmy days of summer. A rather unpleasant development at this time is people sniffling and sneezing because of the seasonal flu. But with the number of COVID-19 cases rising, it is important for us to learn to differentiate between symptoms of the seasonal flu and the novel coronavirus.
India has recorded over 72,000 new cases within 24 hours on 1 April and 459 deaths, which is the highest since 5 December 2020.
While both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 cause respiratory diseases yet there are important differences between the two viruses in the manner by which they spread.
Dr Mrinal Sircar, Director and Head, Pulmonology/Chest and Sleep Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Noida helps us make this differentiation.
He says, “Seasonal flu is caused by the influenza [influenza A and B] viruses, whereas COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2.” Flu, which is also known as the common cold, is generally one that occurs when there is any kind of change in temperature. In the case of the COIVID-19, no such pattern has been established.
It is important to note that both the viruses spread between people who are in close contact, within 6 feet or 2 meters, of each other. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to wear our masks in public and in close proximity to others.
When asked about ways in which one can stay protected against the seasonal flu, he says, “To protect against the seasonal flu, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recommends taking the annual flu vaccine. People with comorbidities should necessarily take this shot, as well as anyone over the age of six.”
While there are no apparent similarities between the seasonal flu and COVID-19, one could confuse the two.
“Other than the fact that both viruses affect humans, there is no similarity,” says Dr Sircar. COVID-19 symptoms include developing a fever, breathing difficulties, body ache, loss of taste, sore throat, runny nose, diarrhoea and also loss of smell. Those suffering from the seasonal flu might experience symptoms of fever, sore throat, muscle or body aches, runny, stuffy nose and tiredness.
Dr Sircar’s advice is to consult your medical practitioner if a high-grade fever persists along with any of the above mentioned symptoms. You should also consult your doctor, if you have travelled to any high-risk areas or have come in contact with someone who tested posted for COVID-19. He adds, “Always get tested within four to six days of feeling unwell, if you suspect COVID-19. Better to get tested earlier than later.”
According to the CDC website, both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu can result in complications, including:
- Respiratory failure
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in the lungs)
- Cardiac injury (for example, heart attacks and stroke)
- Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions (involving the lungs, heart, or nervous system or diabetes)
- Inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues
- Secondary bacterial infections (infections that occur in people who have already been infected with flu or COVID-19).
According to Mayo Clinic, some ways to stay protected against both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 include:
- Avoiding large events and mass gatherings
- Avoiding close contact (within 6 feet or 2 meters) with anyone outside your household, especially if you have a higher risk of serious illness
- Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol
- Wearing a cloth face mask when you’re in public spaces, such as the grocery store, where it’s difficult to avoid close contact with others
- Covering your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, electronics and counters, daily.
Do note that it is advisable to reach out to your medical practitioner in case of any symptoms you experience.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)