With the winter months bringing the threat of not only the flu but also COVID-19, this article breaks down differences between the flu and COVID-19 and provides helpful tips to keep you and your family safe this holiday season.

Bacterial vs. Viral Infections

Before we discuss COVID-19 and the flu, let us first break down the difference between bacterial and viral infections.

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are one single cell made up of tiny microorganisms. They can live in a variety of environments, including in or on the human body. Bacteria that cause infections in humans are known as “pathogenic bacteria.” Common bacterial infections include sinus infections, ear infections, pneumonia, and strep throat.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections by killing or decreasing the growth of bacteria. According to healthline.com, the first antibiotic was used to treat a bacterial infection in 1936. Before this groundbreaking medicine, 30% of deaths were thought to be caused by bacterial infections.

Antibiotics work by killing bacteria in the human body or slowing its growth, either through blocking protein production, preventing reproduction, or attacking the wall surrounding the bacteria. Once bacterial infections are diagnosed, there is a good chance that the infection will be fully treated through proper use of antibiotics.

Viral Infections

Viruses are another type of tiny microorganisms that are even smaller than bacteria. Unlike bacteria, which can survive on their own, viruses are parasitic and require living cells or tissues in which to grow.

Viruses cannot be treated with specific antibiotics, and treatments are focused on relieving symptoms while the body works on fighting the disease. In some cases, antiviral medication is proscribed to decrease the ability of viruses to reproduce. Antiviral medication only exists for a few types of viruses, and unlike antibiotics, it does not entirely kill off the infection.

The Flu

The flu, also known as influenza, is a viral disease cause by a virus that infects the respiratory tract. The disease is very common, with more than 3 million cases per year, and it can last anywhere from several days or weeks. It is transmitted through airborne exposure and is preventable by vaccine.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, or vomiting and diarrhea (especially in children). The disease is contagious and is spread when individuals transmit the disease through tiny droplets released when they couch, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of healthy people nearby and infect them.

Because the flu is a viral infection, there is no one cure to eliminate the disease. Individuals infected should drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and get as much sleep as possible to give their bodies the energy to fight the disease. Doctors do encourage getting the flu vaccine each season to prevent individuals from getting the disease or to lessen its affects.

When an individual receives a vaccine, their immune system is introduced to a safer version of a disease. Their immune system produces antibodies, which fight the disease and remember the antigens associated with the disease. That way if individuals are exposed to the disease later on, their immune systems have a faster and more effective response time. Because there are different strains of the flu, doctors recommend getting a flu shot each season to protect against strains that are predicted to appear the most that season.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is a viral infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that emerged in late 2019.  Its wide onset caused many countries around the world to shutdown in an effort to slow the spread, and the disease has affected everyday life around the globe.

Sharecare.com lists the following reasons for why COVID-19 is more dangerous than the flu:

  • COVID-19 appears to spread more easily: Scientists believe that COVID-19 can spread through contaminated aerosols, which are particles smaller than respiratory droplets that spread the flu.
  • People with COVID-19 may be infectious longer: Patients with COVID-19 can be contagious for up to ten days after testing positive for the disease. The flu is only contagious for about a week.
  • COVID-19 is more deadly: Though more people have succumbed to the flu, the mortality rate for those who contract COVID-19 is significantly higher, with early reports suggesting a 3.4% mortality rate.
  • More people are vulnerable to COVID-19: Due to vaccinations and exposure to the flu, many individuals have built up an immunity to the flu and won’t be as sick should they get infected. COVID-19 on the other hand is new, so individuals haven’t had a chance to build up immunity.
  • Doctors know more about managing the flu: The disease is simply so new that scientists are trying to simultaneously learn about it while treating it.

The Flu vs. COVID-19

The flu and COVID-19 have a variety of similarities that may make them difficult to tell apart, especially during the holiday season when the flu is common.

Both diseases have similar symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, body aches, and headache. The flu can cause mild to severe illness whereas COVID-19 appears to affect some individuals more severely than others. COVID-19 also has a unique symptom of loss of taste and smell. Symptoms of the flu can appear anywhere from one to four days after exposure while symptoms of COVID-19 can appear anywhere from two to fourteen days after exposure.

Individuals can help treat the flu with rest, fluids, a fever reducer such as acetaminophen, or antiviral medicines. Fever and aches can last around five days while fatigue can last around two weeks. The same regime applies for COVID-19, but more serious cases can lead to hospitalization and ventilators to help individuals breathe, and fatigue can last for weeks and even months.

With both the flu and COVID-19, complications can lead to more serious and fatal outcomes. The flu can turn into pneumonia, and COVID-19 can result in lasting damage to the lungs, kidneys, heart, and brain.

Slow the Spread

The spread of both the flu and COVID-19 can be mitigated by wearing masks, frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and limiting contact with exposed individuals. This holiday season, amidst traveling and family gatherings, it’s more important than ever to do your part to slow the spread.

Contact Broadnax Primary Care if you have more questions about the flu and COVID-19 or if you think you have been exposed.