Flu season typically begins in October and peaks between December and February. This year’s flu season is combined with a possible second-wave of coronavirus infections. For some, it may be difficult to recognize which symptoms go with which illness.
While influenza and COVID-19 symptoms are similar, there are key differences between how the two viruses spread and affect people.
Based on current data from the World Health Organization, 80% of COVID-19 infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe and 5% are critical infections, requiring ventilation. These numbers are higher than what is observed for seasonal influenza, according to the WHO.
The 2019-2020 flu season in the U.S. saw 38 million infections and 22,000 flu deaths.
Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. on Jan. 21, the virus has killed 221,000 and infected over eight million Americans.
Although researchers are unsure of the true mortality rate of COVID-19, it appears to be much higher than the flu.
“The data we have so far indicate that the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%,” sthe WHO’s website stated. “The infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower.”
Seasonal influenza’s mortality rate is usually well below 0.1%, according to the WHO.
Additionally, because people with COVID-19 typically take longer before showing symptoms and can be contagious for longer, the virus spreads more easily than seasonal influenza.
The only difference between flu and COVID-19 symptoms is the loss of taste and smell associated with COVID-19, which has not been observed in flu patients.
However, because the two viruses share so many other symptoms, the only way to truly differentiate between the two is by getting tested.
LSU’s Director of Wellness and Health Promotion Rebecca Fontenot said preventative measures for COVID-19, like social distancing and masks, will hopefully help lessen the impact of this season’s flu as well.
Fontenot said the Student Health Center is taking all the necessary precautions for COVID-19 and influenza.
“Since May, we’ve adjusted our operations to ensure that patients coming in for appointments that have COVID symptoms—which have very similar symptoms to flu—we have those patients coming into an isolated door and they stay in an isolated area and hallway to prevent further spread,” Fontenot said. “We have medical providers and nurses that stay in that area for their shift.”
LSU reported 1,129 coronavirus cases—1,074 of which are students and 55 are employees—for the LSU community as of Friday. After Thanksgiving, all classes will move to an online setting before flu season peaks and a potential second wave of the coronavirus sets in.
Fontenot said the SHC will continue remote appointments to evaluate what kind of care students need.
“For all sick appointments that students are requesting, that first sick visit is a telehealth appointment,” Fontenot said. “It’s kind of like an assessment of ‘do we need to have this person come in to get tested?’”
LSU’s Student Health Center is providing free flu shots to all full-time students during their annual outreach program, Flu Shots on the Geaux.
As the possibility of a second-wave of COVID-19 infections looms over the coming months, getting vaccinated for the flu this year could prove to be more important than previous flu seasons.
Fontenot encouraged students to get vaccinated this season.
“The more students that are vaccinated against the flu the better so that it reduces your chance of getting the flu and also potentially having a severe response, so that the healthcare resources can be reserved for patients that need care for COVID-19.
“Staying healthy, which is so important this year, will conserve those sometimes limited healthcare resources for the care of COVID-19 patients,” Fontenot said.