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Cold, Flu and COVID-19:

An Unprecedented Season

Since the cold, flu and the novel coronavirus all present with similar symptoms, it's more important than ever to be vigilant and take action whenever you are feeling unwell in order to stop the spread and protect those around you.

Get answers to your common questions

How to Take Charge:

How to Take Charge:

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

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DO get the flu shot. We may not know a lot yet about the timing and effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine, but based on years of usage and research, we know that the more people get inoculated against influenza, the closer we get to herd immunity against this season’s flu virus—making it less likely to spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting your flu vaccine by the end of October.1

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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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Taking proper precautions works—and there's proof

Digit 1 in a dark blue circle icon

The U.S. 2019–2020 influenza season was on-track to be the most severe in decades. However, public response to the coronavirus pandemic, which included taking the steps outlined above, is credited with shortening last year’s season by six weeks.3

Map of the US with a calendar icon overlaid on top stating "6 weeks shorter"
World map highlighting Argentina and New Zealand
Digit 2 in a dark blue circle icon

Early indicators for the 2020–2021 season—which starts in the Southern Hemisphere in countries like Argentina and New Zealand—show far lower levels of influenza and other seasonal respiratory viral infections than normal.4 Experts similarly attribute this decreased activity to the widespread precautionary measures being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.

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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. It can also 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.5

Need to find a flu
vaccine site near you?

Find a site

Taking proper precautions works—and there's proof

Map of the US with a calendar icon overlaid on top stating "6 weeks shorter"
Digit 1 in a dark blue circle icon

The U.S. 2019–2020 influenza season was on-track to be the most severe in decades. However, public response to the coronavirus pandemic, which included taking the steps outlined above, is credited with shortening last year’s season by six weeks.3

World map highlighting Argentina and New Zealand
Digit 2 in a dark blue circle icon

Early indicators for the 2020–2021 season—which starts in the Southern Hemisphere in countries like Argentina and New Zealand—show far lower levels of influenza and other seasonal respiratory viral infections than normal.4 Experts similarly attribute this decreased activity to the widespread precautionary measures being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Digit 3 in a dark blue circle icon

According to the CDC, flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu illness by between 40–60% among the overall population. It can also 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.5

Need to find a flu vaccine site near you?

Find a site

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.

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.

CDC Flu Estimates vs. COVID-19 Stats

Annual Flu COVID-19,

as of 10/12/20

Cases
Hospitalizations
Deaths

45 million

7.7 million

810,000

605,000*

61,000

214,000

CDC Flu Estimates vs. COVID-19 Stats

Annual Flu COVID-19,

as of 10/12/20

Cases
45 million
7.7 million
Hospitalizations
810,000
605,000
Deaths
61,000
214,000

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FAQs

Flu Vaccine

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. This year, U.S. officials are also removing 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://vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine.

Will there be a flu vaccine shortage or delays?
Due to concerns about a “twindemic” related to the novel coronavirus and seasonal influenza, flu vaccine manufacturers have boosted production for the 2020–2021 season to record levels. According to the CDC, 194–198 million doses are projected, compared to 175 million the previous year. No delays in distribution are currently reported, but you can stay updated by visiting the CDC’s Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Supply and Distribution page here.

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, 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 National Institutes of Health, you should consult a physician if you’ve had a severe reaction in the past to an influenza vaccination, 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.

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 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. Although there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, it so far typically presents as a mild illness in kids.

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. Similarly, early indicators of the 2020–2021 influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere have shown a lower than normal amount of cases. Experts believe this is also the direct result of tactics geared towards preventing COVID-19.

Flu Vaccine

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. This year, U.S. officials are also removing 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://vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine.

Will there be a flu vaccine shortage or delays?
Due to concerns about a “twindemic” related to the novel coronavirus and seasonal influenza, flu vaccine manufacturers have boosted production for the 2020–2021 season to record levels. According to the CDC, 194–198 million doses are projected, compared to 175 million the previous year. No delays in distribution are currently reported, but you can stay updated by visiting the CDC’s Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Supply and Distribution page here.

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, 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 National Institutes of Health, you should consult a physician if you’ve had a severe reaction in the past to an influenza vaccination, 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.

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 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. Although there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, it so far typically presents as a mild illness in kids.

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. Similarly, early indicators of the 2020–2021 influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere have shown a lower than normal amount of cases. Experts believe this is also the direct result of tactics geared towards preventing COVID-19.

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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:

1https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm and https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm
2https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/whatyoushould.htm
3https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01538-8L
4https://www.who.int/influenza/surveillance_monitoring/updates/latest_update_GIP_surveillance/en/
5https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/effectiveness-studies.htm