Does My Aging Loved One Have the Flu or COVID-19?

We’ve been talking about the COVID-19 pandemic for most of the year. Now that we are in October, seasonal flu is an added concern. Families need to be even more diligent about monitoring for symptoms and supporting the health of loved ones this fall and winter. These steps are particularly critical for aging family members and those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable.COVID-19

Older Adults are At Risk During Flu Season

According to the CDC, older adults have a high risk of complications that can happen from the flu (influenza). As a person ages, their immune response changes, which can increase the physical effects of the flu virus. If an older person contracts the flu, this weakens their immune system and puts them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 as well as infections like pneumonia.

The best way to protect against the flu is by getting the annual flu vaccine. The CDC advises that everyone six months of age and older should get an annual influenza vaccine, with few exceptions.  This vaccination is especially important for people over the age of 65 since they are at high-risk for these serious complications. Keep in mind that a new flu shot is needed each year since the vaccines are updated to match the changing viruses.

How Can I Tell the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19 Symptoms?

Be mindful that only a qualified healthcare professional can determine whether your symptoms are related to a cold, the seasonal flu, COVID-19, or another condition. But you can monitor for symptoms to know when you need to visit a health care provider for testing and treatment.

Here are a few similarities between the flu and COVID-19. Both of these illnesses have varying degrees of symptoms, and commonly include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches or muscle pain
  • Diarrhea or vomiting

The seasonal flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses. As such, there are noticeable differences between the flu and COVID-19:

  • COVID-19: This virus seems to spread more easily than the flu and may cause more serious illness in some people than the flu. Infected persons can also be contagious for longer. COVID-19 symptoms can start 2 – 14 days after exposure.The signs and symptoms might differ from the flu. For example, a change in smell or taste is an indication that a person could have COVID-19. There are currently no approved antiviral medications for COVID-19. No COVID-19 vaccines are not available yet.
  • Flu: After exposure, symptoms usually occur within 1 – 4 days. Antiviral treatments are available for patients with the flu. People can reduce their chances of getting the flu by getting a vaccine.

Preventing Illness During Flu Season

Standard health practices are helpful for protecting against the flu and COVID-19. Everyone can do their part to prevent the spread by following the recommendations from the CDC, including:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Wear a mask
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Get a flu shot

If you have symptoms of the flu or COVID-19, then the best solution is to talk to a health care provider right away. Our team at Windward Life Care is available to help older adults and their families stay safe this flu season with in-home caregiving, nursing, and care management support.