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Flu Season FAQs: Managing Flu and COVID

A collection of frequently asked question about Flu during the COVID pandemic


Can you get Flu and COVID at the same time?

Yes. You can, and it can be very dangerous. New studies from Australia and elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere where Flu season has now ended confirm you can have both. 


How can you tell Flu and COVID apart?

Symptoms are very similar for Flu and COVID. Some symptoms are unique to COVID, like loss of taste and smell, but most overlap like fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, headache, fatigue, etc.  There are tests for both, including rapid and molecular (or PCR), but given the high false negative rates of COVID testing, these might have limitations. 


We know rapid COVID tests are less reliable than molecular/PCR tests, which take longer. How reliable are rapid Flu tests?

Rapid Flu tests are better at detecting Flu in children than adults. False negatives are more likely during Flu season for rapid tests when there’s more increased circulation of Flu viruses. A viral culture and PCR test is more accurate than rapid Flu tests, but both may be useful as we likely see an increase in testing.


Can you get tested for both Flu and COVID at the same time? 

There are a few tests recently approved that allow someone to be tested for COVID and Flu A and B, the two primary strains of Flu. Right now, those are primarily available for health departments, but there are private manufacturers producing these tests now, as well, so we do expect to see those become more widely available in the next few months. 


Flu and COVID have many of the same symptoms, but different length of recommended self-isolation. Can an employee return to work sooner if they get a positive Flu test?

Maybe. Flu isn’t contagious for as long as COVID is, so people can generally return to work 24 hours after they are fever-free (without fever-reducing medication) and their symptoms are improved. For COVID, it has to be at least 10 days, plus all those same criteria. 


We know that people can be infected with both Flu and COVID, so a positive Flu test doesn’t guarantee they don’t have COVID. The CDC’s latest guidance is that if someone tests positive for Flu and negative for COVID, you can likely assume it’s Flu unless they’ve had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID or are living in a state with rising COVID counts.  So that’s a firm maybe.  


And in many cases, it’s almost a moot point. By the time someone is sick enough to go get tested for Flu and COVID, a few days have likely passed, so regardless of whether it’s Flu or COVID, many people will be out for part or all of the 10-day time period, especially since they need to be fever free without fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours before they can return to work. 


The news is reporting a very mild Flu season in the Southern Hemisphere. Why is it important to get a flu shot this year if it’s not going to be bad?

First, just because it was mild in the Southern Hemisphere this year doesn’t mean we’ll see the same thing here. Some of those countries implemented mask usage earlier and more uniformly than we have. We know that COVID has hit different countries very differently, and by that same logic, Flu may do the same. 


Second, there actually are Flu outbreaks happening around the world in Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Korea right now. 


As we head into the fall and winter months, and kids return to school and people start to gather indoors, that increases the risk for the spread of both Flu and COVID. 


Plus, it’s extra important to get the Flu shot this year because Flu patients get hospitalized and use important healthcare resources every year, but those are in much shorter supply right now as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s crucial that people get flu shots so that, on a community scale, we reduce the strain on our healthcare system and on an individual scale, because getting both could lead to more serious medical issues.

We can’t do our normal Flu vaccination drive at work when working remotely. How can we make sure our employees are vaccinated?

Special events (on- or off-site at strategic locations) and drive-through vaccination clinics are what most employers who plan to offer Flu vaccinations are planning on at the moment. We also highly recommend offering vouchers for any employees who can’t make it to the events so they can go to a local pharmacy to get theirs when it’s convenient for them.  


What’s the best time to get a Flu shot?

Unlike some other vaccines, the protection of a flu shot does diminish over time. Flu season is generally around October through April, so experts say that mid-late September or early October is the best time to get one.  Dr. Fauci reported he received his Flu shot in early September. 


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