Your COVID/Flu Season Playbook
Primary care providers, infectious disease specialists, and infection preventionists, like me, gear up for flu season. There are always questions. Will the vaccine be a good match? Will there be many hospitalizations? As we all know, this year is extraordinary. With COVID in the mix, there is even less we can be sure of. Just like in years past, we go back to the things we know for sure: recommendations to prevent the spread and minimize the severity of illness. Below is your 2020 Flu Season Playbook, surefire steps for navigating the unknown.
Follow all of the recommendations. Just as Dr. Anthony Fauci noted in Governor Scott’s Tuesday press conference, Vermont has had relatively few cases of COVID-19, because we are good at following directions. We have masked, distanced, washed our hands, and stayed home when we are sick. These activities—when completed together—make a pretty good defense. As we go into flu season, we need to keep up all of those important behaviors.
According to reports from Australia, whose flu season is opposite ours and is just wrapping up, there is good reason to believe that the precautions that we are taking to decrease the spread of COVID are helping prevent the spread of the flu. This is great news.
Get your flu shot in September or October. COVID-19 and the flu are different viruses, which means you could get both at the same time. While we can’t be sure, we expect that would be pretty difficult for most people. When you get the flu shot, your chance of getting the flu goes down. So does your risk of getting a serious case of the flu. And you can’t be fully protected from the flu without it. So get it done. Vaccines can be obtained through your doctor’s office, at a pharmacy, or at a flu clinic. Visit vaccinefinder.org for a pharmacy near you. Sign up for SVMC’s e-newsletter and follow SVMC in social media for upcoming flu clinics locally.
If you do get symptoms, contact your primary care provider. To the average person, the symptoms of COVID and the symptoms of the flu can be difficult to distinguish. Both come with a high fever, body aches, and chest discomfort. Even your medical provider may have difficulty discerning between the two diseases based on symptoms alone. Biotech companies are working on a single test that would determine if a patient has COVID, flu, both, or neither. In the meantime, your provider may recommend you get both tests. If you don’t have a primary care provider, call the COVID Informational Hotline at 802-440-8844. They can advise regarding what you should do next.
Follow your provider’s advice. Once you have been tested, stay home until you know your results. If your test is positive for COVID, the state department of health will be in touch to conduct contact tracing. If you are positive for the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral treatment, which lessens the intensity and shortens the duration of symptoms. (The development of COVID-19 therapies has focused, so far, on treatments for the sickest patients, who are being treated in hospitals. So, there is not yet a prescription medication for those with COVID.) Whether your tests are positive or negative, you should stay home until you have been fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medications and until you feel significantly better.
Despite the uncertainties this flu season, these steps—when followed as a group—will provide the best defense for you and your family.
Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.