Asked and Answered – COVID-19 vs. the Flu
BY KATIE CAVENDER
As we look into the future, there are many uncertainties. One of those is how the COVID-19 pandemic will look during flu season. Mark Knouse, MD, Chief, LVHN Division of Infectious Diseases, provided answers on how the two viruses stack up and what to expect in the fall.
Which virus is more contagious?
Right now, COVID-19 is more “contagious.” This is mostly because of the lack of protective immunity in the regional population either through herd immunity (because of infection) or vaccination. Therefore, the relative contagiousness of COVID-19 may change over time as our community’s immunity changes.
Which illness has a greater risk for severe illness and complications?
Right now, COVID-19 is worse on average. It seems to cause viral pneumonia more often than the average seasonal flu and, as a result, more complications and higher death (mortality) rates. It also causes significant heart and stroke risks.
How are the symptoms different?
Initial symptoms are remarkably similar and overlap a lot – it will be a big challenge to distinguish the two diseases in the fall if both are circulating together. COVID-19 causes viral pneumonia more often than influenza, but the flu can do that as well. Loss of taste and smell seems to be more common with COVID-19.
When should people get their flu shots?
Early fall is likely the best time – late September or early to mid-October. Remember, it is never too late to get a flu shot, as cases often extend into early spring. Vaccination against seasonal flu will be more critical than ever if COVID-19 hits hard again. It will help prevent hospitals and health care systems from becoming overwhelmed.
How will this fall’s flu season be different than those in the past?
There will be heightened concerns when both viruses may be circulating. But we really don’t know what to expect from each flu season until it occurs (much like the coronavirus).
It’s possible that the isolation and distancing measures for the coronavirus might actually result in a “better” flu season with fewer cases.