In February, we shared that hospitals were seeing a surge of admissions many facilities were again under heavy restrictions due to COVID-19 combined with the Flu season That season is just around the corner again, which means it’s time to prepare your staff to keep themselves and your clients and patients healthy all winter long.
Here’s everything you need to know about:
What COVID-19 and the Flu are
Signs and symptoms of each virus – and the differences between COVID-19 and the Flu
How each virus spreads
What to do if you become sick
Treatment and prevention of COVID-19 and the Flu
Standard precautions your staff can take
What are COVID-19 and the Flu?
Coronavirus disease 2019, or “COVID-19,” is a very contagious respiratory disease that is caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, coronavirus infection has caused over 6.5 million deaths, worldwide. Today, with the advent of approved vaccinations, treatments and infection prevention measures, the once-severe effects of COVID-19 have been greatly reduced to mild symptoms and increased survival rates.
However, each week, over 2,500 deaths from COVID-19 are reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States.
Influenza, or “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the components of the respiratory system (nose, throat, and lungs). The two main strains of the flu virus are Influenza A and Influenza B. The CDC estimates that from October 1, 2021 to June 11, 2022 there were between 5,000 and 14,000 deaths from the flu.
Is COVID-19 just like the flu?
The symptoms of COVID-19 can feel a lot like a cold, pneumonia or the flu. While most people who become infected will have mild symptoms, both COVID-19 and the Flu have the potential to cause some people to become severely ill. Adults aged 65 years and older and people who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of severe illness from both COVID-19 and the Flu. Young children are at higher risk of serious complications from the flu.
One of the biggest differences between COVID-19 and the flu, is that even those with minor or no symptoms of COVID-19 may suffer the debilitating effects of “long COVID.” These post-covid conditions can last anywhere from weeks, to months or longer. Long COVID conditions range from general tiredness, and difficulty thinking to heart palpitations, and depression or anxiety.
Signs & Symptoms
People who have become sick with influenza find their symptoms come on quickly, one to four days after exposure.
Flu signs and symptoms include the following:
Muscle soreness and body aches
Sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough
For some, vomiting and diarrhea (most common in children)
People who have become sick with COVID-19 find their symptoms come on gradually and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure to the virus.
COVID-19 signs and symptoms include the following:
Fever and/or chills
Loss of taste and/or smell
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle soreness and body aches
Sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
Clients with COVID-19 may be contagious for extended periods of time (around eight days) when compared to clients with the flu (around three days). Because the symptoms are so similar, testing is needed to tell whether an illness is the flu or COVID-19. Seeking early treatment for both illnesses can greatly reduce the chances of becoming very sick. It is important to remember that a client can become infected with flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
Both COVID-19 and flu can result in the following complications:
Fluid in the lungs (known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome)
Injury to the heart (including inflammation, heart attack and stroke)
Failure of the vital organs (lungs and kidneys)
Inflammation of the brain, or muscle tissue
Secondary infections (bacteria or fungal infections)
Additionally, post-COVID complications can be very serious, ranging from blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart or brain, to Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrom in Children (MIS-C) and Adults (MIS-A).
How it Spreads
Learning how COVID-19 and the flu spread is the first step in protecting yourself and others from contracting the virus. Generally, both viruses are spread through exposure to droplets of materials from the respiratory tract and mucous membranes of an infected person. In the case of COVID-19, these droplets can be suspended in the air for extended periods of time.
However, the viruses are most commonly spread through personal contact with an infected person’s eyes nose or mouth through coughing, sneezing, and contaminated surfaces, including highly touched surfaces.
Direct contact with COVID-19 and the flu can happen in many ways, including:
Touching hands, objects, and surfaces that have been used by someone with the flu or COVID-19. Including items that have not been disinfected after use.
Inhaling or ingesting the respiratory secretions of someone infected with the flu or COVID-19.
Close, intimate contact (such as hugging or kissing) someone infected with the flu or COVID-19.
If You Become Sick
Whether someone becomes sick with the flu or COVID-19, they must distance themselves from others and monitor their symptoms. Be prepared to reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance if your symptoms worsen.
Monitor for warning signs that you need serious medical attention:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen that does not go away
Confusion, dizziness, or inability to stay alert
Signs of dehydration like decreased urination or dry mouth
Sever weakness and muscle pain
Worsening fever or cough after previous improvement
Worsening chronic medical conditions
Those sick with flu should stay home and avoid contact with others unless they are seeking medical care. The CDC recommends that those infected with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the aid of fever-reducing medications.
Those sick with COVID-19 should stay home for at least 5 days, wearing a mask around others during this time. If you had no symptoms, you may end isolation after 5 days. If you had symptoms and they are improving, you may end isolation after day 5 provided you are fever-free for 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medications. If you had symptoms and they are not improving after 5 days, continue to isolate until your symptoms are improving and youa re fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
Treatment & Prevention
Thankfully, in 2022, we have several treatments and preventative measures available to protect ourselves and our clients from the complications of the flu and COVID-19.
The first step in prevention is vaccination.
Each year, during the fall and winter months, refreshed vaccinations are made available against Flu A and Flu B. This season, all flu vaccines will offer protection against four flu viruses that are expected to be the most common. The vaccines are available to everyone aged 6 months and older. It is recommended that these vaccines are taken by the end of October.
Staying up to date with COVID-19 primary vaccination and boosters will help to develop antibodies that will protect you and your clients from the COVID-19 virus and its variants. New vaccines and boosters are being developed frequently to keep up with the growing number of mutations that will come as the virus attempts to find new ways to infect more people.
The newest booster provides the best protection against COVID-19 and its newest variants: Omicron BA.4 and BA.5. You may hear this vaccine referred to as a “bivalent booster,” meaning it protects against more than one variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. You can find more information on currently available COVID-19 vaccinations by visiting: Stay Up to Date with COVID-19 Vaccines Including Boosters | CDC.
Current treatments against the Flu are approved antiviral medications that can be used by anyone as early as two-weeks old and up.
Current treatments against COVID-19 are reserved for those who have mild to moderate symptoms but are likely to become very sick. The treatments include antiviral treatments and monocolonal antibodies. It is important to note that antiviral medication for the flu cannot be used to treat COVID-19, nor can antiviral medication or monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 be used to treat the flu.
Antiviral medications available for the flu:
Work best when taken within two days of becoming sick
Can make the flu illness much more mild and can shorten the time you are ill.
Are only available by prescription
Antiviral medications and monoclonal antibodies available for COVID-19:
Work best when taken within days of becoming sick
Are intended for those more likely to get very sick, including older adults, people who are unvaccinated, and those with weakened immune systems or certain disease (such as chronic lung disease and heart disease)
Are only available by prescription
Standard Precautions and the Client’s Home
Providing care for clients with a suspected or confirmed case of the flu or COVID-19 can be done safely by employing Standard Precautions to protect yourself and prevent the spread of infection. Standard Precautions are common practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations that protect healthcare workers from becoming infected while working with ALL your patients and clients.
As a reminder, here are the key actions for following Standard Precautions:
Perform hand hygiene before and after each patient interaction, or when visibly soiled.
Use appropriate PPE for each client encounter
Follow cough etiquette
Isolate infected clients appropriately
Clean and disinfect all client care equipment and environments
Handle linen and laundry carefully
Handle needles and sharps carefully
Follow transmission-based precautions as appropriate for each client encounter
In addition, if you are caring for someone with suspected or confirmed flu or COVID-19 infection, keep yourself and your clients safe by doing the following:
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. An alcohol-based sanitizer is also acceptable.
Always wear appropriate PPE (gown, gloves, mask and eye protection) while caring for the client and perform hand hygiene afterwards. In the case of COVID-19, wear an N-95 respirator.
Disinfect the client’s environment, including cups, flatware and cutlery each shift.
Wear PPE when handling bedding, towels or clothing of a client with the flu or COVID-19. Perform hand hygiene once complete.
Bring in as much outdoor air as you safely can by opening windows. Change air filters frequently, and use portable high-efficiency particular air (HEPA) filters or cleaners.
Provide a mask to your client if the client is travelling into a public area, and maintain a difference of at least 6 feet from others.
COVID-19 and the flu can be safely managed by informed healthcare workers. Find out more information and stay up-to-date on the flu and COVID-19 news by visiting www.cdc.gov.