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Did you know that most people who lose their lives to either COVID-19 or influenza belong to the same group?

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Distinguishing between influenza and COVID-19 can be a difficult process if only superficial aspects are analyzed, because both infections come with extremely similar symptoms, namely fever, cough and sore throat.
  • The causes of death among both COVID-19 and influenza sufferers include pneumonia developed as a complication of each disease, particularly in high-risk groups who are more likely to die than others.
  • The influenza vaccine should be administered annually. This vaccine can be given any time after 6 months of age and is the most effective measure available in terms of preventing an influenza infection.

 

COVID-19 is an infection resulting from the novel Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes a fever alongside respiratory symptoms. Most of those who contract the virus develop a fever, cough, sore throat and breathing difficulties. Some patients may develop severe pneumonia, which can be fatal, but more worrisome than that is the fact that just one infected patient can infect 2-4 additional people. Some reports state that COVID-19 death rates are around 4.6%.

Influenza is caused by the influenza virus and results in symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. While most patients recover from the flu in 1-2 weeks, there are some who develop severe symptoms.

The causes of death among patients with either disease include pneumonia developing as a complication from the infection. This can lead to a higher number of fatalities in high-risk groups than among the general population. These high-risk groups include the elderly and those with chronic health conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease and diabetes. The European regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO/Europe) strongly advises people in those high-risk groups to receive an influenza vaccination, as well as a pneumococcal vaccine, despite the current focus being on protection against the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 and the influenza vaccination

Distinguishing between influenza and COVID-19 can be a difficult process when only superficial aspects are analyzed, because both infections come with extremely similar symptoms in the form of fever, cough and sore throat.

However, whether someone is suffering with an influenza or a COVID-19 infection, both illnesses can result in the same complication, namely pneumonia. If we do not protect ourselves against both influenza and COVID-19, it could result in contracting both infections simultaneously, which would make treatment extremely complex.

Moreover, a combined infection could lead to significant health issues and a higher mortality rate for high-risk groups including the elderly and those with chronic health conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease and diabetes.

There is still no vaccine available for COVID-19—medical practitioners are still at the research and trial stage. There has been an influenza vaccination available for quite some time.

The World Health Organization recommends that people receive the flu vaccination during the current pandemic despite the vaccine not offering protection against COVID-19. This is because the annual influenza vaccine offers protection against the dangerous annual spread of flu.

Is it safe to get an influenza vaccination while the COVID-19 situation is still so volatile?

The flu vaccine should be administered on an annual basis. The injection is safe for those aged 6 months and older. While this vaccination provides the most effective protection against influenza, getting vaccinated has no association or effect in screening for other respiratory viruses, nor does it decrease a person’s chances of contracting COVID-19 or any other respiratory disease.

Side effects associated with the influenza vaccine

  • Patients may suffer headaches, muscle pain and a slight fever, but these generally go away within 1-2 days.
  • Patients will not experience a cough, runny nose or severe sore throat after receiving the influenza vaccination.
  • Patients should consult a doctor should their symptoms worsen or not go away after 2-3 days.

If someone contracts COVID-19 after receiving an influenza vaccination, will their body still be able to build up the usual immunity to COVID-19?

The influenza vaccination has no association or effect in screening for other respiratory viruses, nor does it decrease a person’s chances of contracting COVID-19 or any other respiratory disease. Once the flu vaccine has been administered, the body will build an immunity against that specific disease. If the same patient subsequently contracts COVID-19, their body will build an immunity against that specific disease.

Other infectious diseases could make a return if we do not protect ourselves

In addition to the dangers posed by COVID-19, neglecting or postponing vaccinations could lead to other infectious diseases making a comeback.

Postponing vaccines—despite doing so on a short-term basis—and therefore neglecting to build up immunity against various diseases could lead to a whole host of vaccine preventable diseases making an unwelcome return, and could lead to a significant and needless loss of life.


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Samornrod Limmahakhun, M.D. Summary: Internal Medicine Infectious Diseases