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Cold, Flu and COVID-19:

Keeping Yourself and Your Family Safe

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 era, our ever-changing days are still filled with more questions than answers—and that includes expectations for the upcoming cold and flu season. While experts agree the months ahead will continue to be unpredictable, evidence does indicate a higher likelihood that this year’s rates of upper respiratory illness and flu will be higher than last.

  • Traditionally, milder flu seasons, like last winter, are followed by more severe ones. This can be attributed to waning immunity, since the more exposure a population has to infectious disease, the more herd immunity builds. Less exposure due to a mild season (as well as more time in isolation, physical distancing and masking measures) equals increased susceptibility in the future.
  • This hypothesis has already been demonstrated in the uncharacteristic summer rise of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in the Southern U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributes this surge to reduced circulation of RSV during the winter months of 2020–2021 and warns that infants and toddlers may now be at increased risk of severe RSV-associated complications as a result of minimal exposure.
Get answers to your common questions

How to take charge:

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DO get vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu. With variants emerging, kids returning to school, adults returning to work and communities heading indoors, vaccination is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your family and the public-at-large.

If you don’t already have your COVID-19 vaccine, click here to learn why it’s recommended by the CDC and find a vaccine near you. Even if you were vaccinated against flu last year, the CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get another flu vaccine by the end of October.1

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DO keep taking proper precautions.
Double down on the rules from cold and flu seasons past, including practicing good hand hygiene, wearing a mask and physical distancing in public settings.

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DON’T wait to get diagnosed and treated.
If you are suffering from influenza, antiviral treatment is most effective when started within two days of symptom onset. These drugs can lessen fever and flu symptoms and may reduce the risk of complications for people of all ages, including those in high-risk groups.2 And if your symptoms are related to COVID-19, testing as soon as they arise is critical in keeping your family and loved ones safe.
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DO seek virtual care as a first step if you are experiencing symptoms. With the double threat of flu and COVID-19, virtual care allows you to be evaluated without risking exposure–or potentially passing illness to others. If your physician feels testing is necessary to confirm your diagnosis, they will offer guidance, instruction and reassurance around getting it done safely.

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Get care without risking exposure or potentially passing illness to others.

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Even if you need further testing or evaluation, our virtual clinic is a hassle-free first stop to easing worries and getting on the path to health.

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We can help with:
I think my child and I have the flu. Can you treat us?3
My asthma was triggered by this cold. Are you able to refill my medications?
I’m worried I have a sinus infection. Can you help?
Can I take OTC cold meds if I have hypertension?
My child has had a cough for a week. Should I be concerned?

Taking proper precautions works—and there’s proof

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The U.S. 2020-2021 influenza season was significantly less severe than in years past, likely due in large part to widespread use of masking, physical distancing and proper hand hygiene as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continued use of these measures should steady this trend in the coming year.

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Need to find a flu
vaccine site near you?

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According to the CDC, flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu illness by between 40–60% among the overall population. While generally not as effective as the COVID-19 vaccine at preventing illness, it can significantly reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working-age adults and older adults and is an important preventive tool for individuals with chronic health conditions.4

Cold, Flu and COVID-19
What’s the difference?

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Some colds are in the coronavirus family. As a “sibling” to COVID-19, they present with similar symptoms, such as cough, sinus congestion and drainage.

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Influenza tends to begin more abruptly, with high fever and muscle/joint pain. However, these symptoms can also be associated with COVID-19.

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COVID-19 symptoms can include total loss of the sense of smell, shortness of breath and gastrointestinal issues. However, the complete list is long and varied, with similarities to cold and flu.

Bottom line: If you are experiencing any symptoms, stay home and start taking action by seeking virtual care.

What's the Difference?

Dark teal-colored circle icon with the text Cold

Colds are in the coronavirus family. As a “sibling” to COVID-19, they present with similar symptoms, such as cough, sinus congestion and drainage.

Teal-colored circle icon with the text Flu

Influenza tends to begin more abruptly, with high fever and muscle/joint pain. However, these symptoms can also be associated with COVID-19.

Coral-colored circle icon with the text COVID-19

COVID-19 symptoms include total loss of the sense of smell, shortness of breath and gastrointestinal issues. However, the complete list is long and varied, with similarities to cold and flu.

Bottom line: If you are experiencing any symptoms, stay home and start taking action by seeking virtual care.

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FAQs

Vaccines

Where can I get a flu shot?
In addition to making an appointment with your primary care provider, flu shots are available at pharmacies and your local departments of health nationwide. U.S. officials have also removed restrictions around pharmacists providing flu shots to children due to the increased importance of vaccination during the coronavirus pandemic. To find a flu vaccine site near you, visit https://www.vaccines.gov/.

Will the flu vaccine protect me from COVID-19?
The flu vaccine will not protect you against the novel coronavirus, but it has been proven to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death. Because it is possible to have flu and COVID-19 simultaneously—and because stopping the spread of flu is a protective public health measure and a crucial means of conserving healthcare resources—the CDC urges everyone to get a flu vaccine this year..

Can I still get the flu if I get the flu shot?
Yes. You may be exposed to a flu virus during the two-week period where the antibodies from vaccination are still developing, you may come into contact with a strain of the virus not included in this year’s vaccine, or personal factors like your age and chronic health conditions may impact your immunity. That said, according to the CDC, studies have shown that flu vaccination reduces severity of illness in people who were vaccinated but still get sick.

Who should not get a flu vaccine?
According to the CDC, you should consult a physician if you’ve had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past, if you have a history of egg allergy or allergies to vaccine components, if you’ve developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine, or if you have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever. If you are
experiencing any symptoms, even those of a cold, it’s worth consulting a doctor prior to leaving your home to be evaluated for and stop the spread of a possible COVID-19 infection..

Which COVID-19 vaccine should I get?
The short answer is that you should take the first vaccine that becomes available to you. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been shown to reduce severe disease from COVID-19 in about 90–95% of cases. The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown to protect about 85% percent from severe disease. Regardless of these percentages, the most
important takeaway is that all three of these vaccines are highly effective in rendering COVID-19 into milder cases.

What side effects might I expect?
The most common reactions reported for all 3 approved vaccines are fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and pain at the injection site. One thing to note, the symptoms seem to be more significant after the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, although some people just feel tired for a day or two and others have no side effects at all.

I had COVID-19. Do I need to get vaccinated?
Yes, according to recommendations from the CDC, since there are still unknowns around re-infection (especially with the Delta variant) and how long immunity lasts. If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, however, speak to your healthcare provider, as some timing restrictions exist.
Visit our COVID-19 resource page for more FAQs related to the COVID-19 vaccine and other coronavirus concerns.

COVID-19, Colds and Flu

Can I have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
According to the CDC, yes, it is possible to have influenza, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and COVID-19 simultaneously. Diagnostic testing can confirm if you are suffering from one or both.

What’s more dangerous, COVID-19 or flu?
We are still learning about the novel coronavirus; however, from what we currently know, it appears more deadly than seasonal influenza in adults. By contrast, the flu seems more dangerous to children, especially young ones, whereas COVID-19 for the most part presents as a mild illness with this age group.

Are colds and the novel coronavirus the same thing?
Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, including the common cold. Although the symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, headache, fever, cough) can be similar to COVID-19 (they are, after all, in the family of coronaviruses), the novel coronavirus is a new strain that causes more severe symptoms like trouble breathing and dry cough, more often leading to pneumonia and hospitalization.

Flu Illness and Risks

Who is at high risk for flu complications?
People at high risk for complications from the flu include adults ages 65+, pregnant individuals, children under the age of 5 and those with chronic health conditions, particularly diabetes, asthma and heart disease. For a complete list visit the CDC website here.

Are kids more at risk of complications from flu or COVID-19?
Flu illness is more dangerous than the common cold and COVID-19 for children. Children under 5 years old, especially those younger than 2, are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications, including pneumonia, brain dysfunction and sinus problems, and in rare cases, death. COVID-19 has so far presented most typically as a mild illness in kids, although it can be severe in some cases.

Staying Safe

Will wearing a mask protect me against cold and flu?
Public health measures like physical distancing and wearing a mask are as effective in stopping the spread of colds and flu as they are at protecting you and others from COVID-19. These precautions, taken at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, were likely responsible for the early end of the 2019–2020 influenza season (which had previously been on-track to be one of the worst in decades), as well as the mild 2020–2021 season.

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We're serious about our commitment to providing you with the most up-to-date, credible information so you can feel empowered in your decision-making—and social sharing.

This resource was put together with guidance from 98point6 board-certified physicians, as well as the latest findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To learn more, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.

1https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm
 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm
2https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/whatyoushould.htm
3Contact your HR benefits manager to see if pediatric coverage is part of your plan.
4https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/effectiveness-studies.htm