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Flu Vaccine: Facts and Myths

It’s January, the time of year when many people find themselves a bit house cooped, which can lead to the increased spread of flu and COVID-19. Turns out, the symptoms for both viruses look and feel very similar.

Perhaps you wake up with a slight fever, chills, and a runny nose. Your body and joints ache and the only thing that sounds appealing is crawling right back into bed. Unlike the flu, COVID-19 is frequently accompanied by difficulty breathing, loss of taste and/or smell, red, swollen eyes, and a skin rash. While flu symptoms usually manifest 1-4 days after exposure, COVID-19 may not appear until 5-7 days after exposure, according to the Englewood Health Team, an acute care 289-bed teaching hospital (www.englewoodhealth.org) in Englewood, N.J. All of this complicates containing the spread of COVID-19 in terms of who is exposed and at what stage they are exposed.

So, how do you know if it’s COVID or the flu? First, contact your doctor. Most likely, they will conduct a telehealth evaluation and determine if you should be tested. COVID tests are now available throughout the state, including rapid tests, nasal swabs, and saliva testing. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your physician will dictate a protocol that may include self-isolation, self-monitoring of symptoms, and bed rest. For a person who tests positive for COVID, it is important to inform coworkers, friends, family, and anyone else who you may have been in close contact. Seek emergency help by calling 9-1-1 if you have difficulty breathing, experience chest pains, and/or mental confusion.

Getting vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 is a powerful and safe way to prevent the spread of life-threatening disease. If you have asthma, diabetes, or lung or heart disease, you are at an even higher risk for infection. Furthermore, neither the flu nor COVID vaccine will cause severe illness (you may experience mild symptoms and discomfort initially, but nothing long-lasting). The flu vaccine contains inactive viruses that help to increase immunity. Similarly, the COVID vaccine helps our bodies to develop immunity to the virus without contracting the virus. It typically takes a few weeks after the initial (two-part) shot for the body to produce T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes, both of which are defensive white blood cells designed to fight invading germs known as antigens (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/).

The goal is for everyone to easily be able to get a COVID vaccine as soon as possible. In the meantime, cover your nose and mouth with a mask when out in public, maintain 6 feet social distance from others, avoid large crowds and indoor gatherings, and wash your hands thoroughly and often. For breaking updates, visit https://www.cdc.gov/.