The seasonal flu and COVID-19 can present similar symptoms, and so protecting against the flu can help avoid confusion.
As a family medicine physician with Ascension Medical Group who focuses on preventative care in an effort to screen for serious diseases and conditions, Dr. Kwame Francis says, “No amount of precaution is too much precaution.”
While he acknowledges that many of us are sick of hearing about COVID-19, talks of preventative measures are incredibly important as the temperature drops and the number of new infections spike. One way we can be proactive is to be vaccinated against influenza.
“It’s always important to get the flu vaccine every year because the strains can vary, and it’s doubly important now because the symptoms of influenza can overlap with symptoms of COVID,” Dr. Francis says. “It’s better to guard as best you can against both risks rather than try to distinguish one from the other later.”
According to Dr. Francis and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu include feeling feverish, experiencing fatigue, chills, muscle pain and headaches – and could be attributed to either infection.
And because COVID-19 is a virus that primarily affects the respiratory system, its effects can easily be confused with symptoms of other cold-weather respiratory illnesses, including influenza.
“The only way to distinguish COVID and influenza from the symptoms is a test. Luckily, Detroit made free- and low-cost testing pretty available since the start of the pandemic, but I think we’re definitely about to see an increase in test rates and probably diagnoses,” Dr. Francis says.
Doubts raised by certain groups about the safety of vaccines may leave patients questioning the injection, but Dr. Francis says getting one every year is really the best way to protect yourself in the current flu season as well as upcoming ones.
“A flu shot is basically a mixture of a few strains that we predict might be most virulent and widespread during flu season. We can’t get all of them in one go, though, so repeated prevention is best,” Dr. Francis says. Just like the symptoms of COVID and influenza overlap, so do the demographics most at risk.
The CDC reminds us that “older adults, people with certain underlying medical conditions and pregnant people” are at higher risk for complications from COVID. Dr. Francis says, “Each family should discuss their unique household risks with their physicians and make an informed decision, since risks vary among households.”
Facing flu season while the threat of COVID-19 remains prevalent will be a challenge in Detroit where COVID-19 impacted the majority-Black community disproportionately. “Metro Detroit is a resilient community and, despite challenges of health disparities, I am hopeful that our residents will be responsible,” Dr. Francis says.
“I do a lot of community work and outreach, and I would say that African Americans understand why vaccines are important. There have been historical conflicts between minority communities and health care professionals, but seeing a physician that looks like you helps to bridge these divides. Family physicians are particularly adept at building long-lasting, trusting relationships with their patients,” he says.
Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting ascension.org/michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627)