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Sunday November 29, 2020

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Coronavirus Versus Flu: How to Tell the Difference

Can you explain the differences between the coronavirus and the seasonal flu? I am 70, and usually get a standard flu shot, but would like to find out what else I can do to protect myself this winter.

Because of the dual danger of influenza (flu) and COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned that this fall and winter could be the worst ever for public health. Understanding this, knowing the differences and similarities between the viruses and knowing what you can do to protect yourself is the best way to stay healthy and safe through this difficult time.

Flu vs. COVID-19


Because many of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Talk with your healthcare professional if you have concerns or symptoms. Testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. With that said, here are some similarities and differences you should know.

For starters, seasonal flu symptoms come on pretty quickly, whereas COVID-19 often develops gradually over a period of a few days and then either fades out or gets worse. Common shared symptoms include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, headache, fatigue, chest pain, diarrhea and nausea. Pinkeye and a dry cough are associated with COVID-19.

Many people are having their temperatures taken these days before entering public spaces. A fever occurs in approximately half of COVID-19 cases and may also be present in an individual with the flu. Lack of a fever does not rule out COVID-19 or the flu.

You are likely to have a runny or stuffy nose with the flu. COVID-19 has reportedly caused loss of smell and taste in some cases. To learn more about the similarities and differences between the flu and COVID-19, visit the CDC website at CDC.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm.

How to Protect Yourself


While there is no vaccine available yet to prevent COVID-19, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Do the best you can to stay away from highly populated public areas. If you have to go out, wear a mask and keep at least six feet away from other people. Every time you come home, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

There is evidence suggesting that people who are deficient in vitamin D may be at higher risk of getting COVID-19, than those with sufficient levels. Check with your physician prior to adding vitamin supplements to your routine. Your primary healthcare provider may advise you to take in around 800 to 1,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D from food or supplements daily. Daily exposure to the sun may also increase your vitamin D levels, remember to avoid overexposure from the sun.

To help guard against the flu this year, you should talk with your physician about getting a flu shot that is specifically designed for people 65 and older. The "Fluzone High Dose Quadrivalent" or the "FLUAD Quadrivalent" are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot offers. You only need one flu shot each year. It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after you receive the flu shot. Most healthcare professionals advise receiving the flu shot in early fall, at the start of flu season.

Pneumonia Vaccines


If you have not been vaccinated for pneumonia, you may also consider getting the pneumococcal vaccines. Both the flu and COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia, which hospitalizes around 250,000 Americans. In approximately 50,000 people each year, pneumonia may be fatal. These numbers could be much higher this year with the dual threat of the flu and COVID-19.

The CDC recommends that all individuals age 65 and older get two vaccinations – Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, administered one year apart, protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection.

Medicare Part B covers both flu and pneumonia shots. To locate a vaccination site that offers any of these shots, visit VaccineFinder.org and type in your location.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published October 30, 2020
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