5 Flu And COVID-19 Myths People Need To Stop Believing
The flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic will collide. Here's what you need to know. (Photo: dragana991 via Getty Images)
While no one knows exactly how it will turn out, it is safe to say that the United States is entering a flu season like no other.
COVID-19 is still fluctuating across much of the country. And although experts believe influenza rates may be lower than usual (more on that in a moment), we will still face several contagious respiratory diseases together. "Twist chemistry" if you will.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the viruses that cause the flu and the viruses that cause COVID-19 are "likely" to be circulating this fall and winter. This is a worrying prospect, especially for those in risk categories. And to top it off, there is so much misinformation out there about COVID-19, the flu, and the vaccines.
Do not fall prey to untruths. Here are five big misconceptions about the illnesses everyone must unlearn as we near flu season and a possible second wave of COVID-19:
Myth: The flu is not a problem as we wear masks.
Doctors "hope - but don't bet - for a lighter influenza season this year as people practice physical distancing, wearing masks, and improving hand hygiene," said Dr. Timothy Laird, Interim Chief Medical Officer, Health First Medical Group.
Sometimes you can do almost anything right - masking, keeping social distance, washing hands - and still catching a virus. That is why it is so important to stratify preventive measures. People can get the flu by touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated with flu viruses (which also applies to COVID-19, although this is not the primary mode of transmission).
"Everything we do reduces the risk," said Dr. Aaron Milstone, epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Medicine. "This does not reduce the risk to zero."
(But mask skeptics, note: this does not mean that you should leave your face covering at home. Experts largely agree that wearing a mask is far better than nothing to reduce transmission.)
Myth: The flu vaccine could make you sick, weak, or more susceptible to COVID-19.
The persistent claim that the flu vaccine can give you the flu is just not true, experts say. However, you might get a quick reaction to the vaccine (including muscle pain and fever) as your body is making antibodies.
"You can get a sore arm, feel a little painful, or have a low temperature or a sore throat," Laird said. "But this is not a disease, this is a side effect that occurs in a small number of people with almost every vaccination."
There are a few other ways you could get sick after vaccination: You could catch the flu in the two-week window between receiving your shot and the time it takes effect. Or, you could get sick if exposed to a flu virus that doesn't match the one used in this year's vaccine well.
But the vaccine itself is not going to make you sick. This is an important misconception that needs to be cleared now when someone who is not vaccinated because of concerns falls ill and weakens their immune system amid a pandemic, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. It will not.
On the other hand, it is possible to get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, which could be "catastrophic" for the immune system, some experts warn. So it's especially important to get a flu shot.
The flu shot doesn't make you sick or more susceptible to COVID-19. (Photo: Justin Paget via Getty Images)
Myth: The flu vaccine could “mess” with a COVID-19 vaccine.
If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available during the flu season after you've already got your flu shot, "there should be no problem getting a follow-up vaccine anytime this winter," Milstone said.
"We give vaccines together all the time," he said. "The only time we sometimes worry about separating vaccines with a little time is when we give a live viral vaccine."
For example, doctors could place other vaccinations around the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine so that patients get the full immune response. But all of the injectable flu vaccines currently available are not live vaccines, Milstone said, so this shouldn't be a problem.
Myth: COVID-19 and flu are essentially the same.
Despite President Donald Trump's continued claims that flu and COVID-19 are so similar that they are basically the same, this is absolutely not true.
This does not apply to the effect on the body. It is not true how long people are contagious or how contagious the various viruses are. and it's not even true who is prone to get really sick.
"There's an epidemiological difference," said Milstone.
This also does not apply to deaths. Approximately 34,000 people died in the US during the 2018-2019 flu season, which rose sharply in November and fell quite sharply in February. In contrast, more than 211,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States in the past seven months. And unlike the flu, which is common in winter, COVID-19 cases increased throughout the summer.
Distinguishing the difference has implications for everything from how doctors might be alert to more serious developments, to how long someone should be quarantined and how people should behave after coming into contact with someone who is sick .
What us to ...
Myth: If I got sick, I would treat COVID-19 and the flu the same way.
There is definitely significant overlap in symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza such as fever, chills, fatigue, and cough. They are also both highly contagious respiratory viruses. In a way, a person who gets the flu can act pretty much the same as a person who gets COVID-19.
“There are some common principles that must be followed. First, you're contagious, ”Laird said. “Protect others. Wear a mask when you are around it. Everyone should practice excellent hand hygiene and you should isolate yourself as much as possible. Second, hydrate and rest. "
However, knowing what specific virus you have is likely to change how you go about it. Researchers are still struggling with how long someone can spread COVID-19, but they believe the time to contract is longer than that of the flu. With the flu, people can usually get back into the world if they have been free of fever for 24 hours. For COVID-19, it has been at least 10 days since symptoms began and the person has been fever free for at least 24 hours.
This is one of the reasons doctors like Milstone advocate that people who develop symptoms get tested extra diligently this season.
"I think most people need a test result to know when can I safely get back to work, school, daycare, etc.," said Milstone.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is known or available at the time of publication. However, guidelines may change as scientists learn more about the virus. Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.
When is the best time to get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Will wearing a face mask for COVID-19 also protect you from the flu?
Before you hire a vaccine skeptic, here are some things you need to know
As US Crosses 200,000 COVID-19 Deaths, Experts Warn 'Perfect Storm' Flu Season
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