HUDSON — Flu season is almost here, but with so many typical flu symptoms looking like COVID-19, how will you know if your cough is a case of the flu or something more?
The majority of symptoms of the influenza virus overlap with symptoms of the coronavirus, but local health departments have resources available to deal with both.
“There’s not really a definitive answer in black and white that this means it’s the flu or this means it’s COVID,” said Cheryl Ronsani, a communicable disease registered nurse in Columbia County. “Unfortunately, those aren’t easy answers to come up with at this point.”
The flu and COVID-19 are respiratory viruses. Symptoms for both can include cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain or headaches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are not many differences in the symptoms of both viruses, aside from a possible loss of sense of taste or smell for some people with COVID-19.
“COVID sometimes has the telltale loss of taste and smell that are good indicators that you are leaning more towards COVID than the flu,” said Pamela Ferber, a communicable disease registered nurse in Columbia County.
Although COVID can produce the loss of taste and smell, sometimes people with the flu experience a stuffy or runny nose, which can also limit a person’s sense of smell, Ferber said.
Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly, and most people recover in under two weeks. Symptoms in people with COVID-19 become apparent between two and 14 days after the person has been exposed to the virus, if they show symptoms at all. Some people who contract COVID might be completely asymptomatic, but can still carry and spread the virus, according to the CDC.
People with the flu are typically contagious starting one day before they show symptoms, and are contagious for five to seven days after symptoms appear.
Both COVID-19 and the flu are spread from person-to-person among those in close contact with one another. The CDC website states both viruses are spread mainly through droplets that become airborne when people with the illness cough, sneeze or talk.
The viruses can spread when the droplets land in other people’s mouths or noses, or inhaled into the lungs. It is also possible, but less common, to get the illnesses from shaking hands or touching infected surfaces or objects that have the virus on it, and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.
The CDC recommends people help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by frequent handwashing, or using a sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when handwashing is not available. People should wear a mask when out in public that covers the nose and mouth, and maintain social distance of at least 6 feet from other people. Frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs or light switches should be cleaned and disinfected often.
“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus, particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
If someone has severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing, persistent chest pain, confusion, bluish lips or face or the inability to stay awake, the CDC recommends calling 911 and seeking emergency medical care.
Possible complications of the flu and COVID-19 can differ, according to the Johns Hopkins’ University website. Complications from the flu can lead to inflammation of the heart, brain, liver, muscles or multi-organ failure. Sometimes bacterial infections can occur. With COVID-19, complications can lead to long-term damage to the lungs, heart, brain and kidneys.
The Columbia County Department of Health has reported 549 confirmed COVID cases and 37 deaths as of Friday. Greene County has reported 319 cases to date and 19 COVID-related deaths.
New York state has had a total of over 448,000 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, according to the state Health Department.
“As we head into fall and the flu season ahead, it’s going to take the work of all us to protect this progress we’ve gained,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “We must all keep washing our hands, wearing our masks and remaining socially distant.”
Unlike COVID, people can get an annual flu shot to help prevent contracting the influenza virus. Both Columbia and Greene counties have schedule upcoming flu vaccination clinics.
Columbia County will hold drive-thru flu clinics Wednesday from 9-11 a.m., at the Roe Jan Library in Hillsdale; on Sept. 30, from 9-11 a.m., at the Chatham Fairgrounds; on Oct. 3, from 9 a.m. to noon at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson; on Thursday, Oct. 8, from 9-11 a.m., at Palatine Park in Germantown; on Oct. 17, from 9-11 a.m., at Ichabod Crane Central School in Valatie; and Oct. 22, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the New Lebanon Town Hall.
Anyone wanting a flu shot must preregister, and can do so on the Columbia County Health Department website or by calling 518-828-3358, ext. 1310. People who are uninsured or underinsured may be eligible for a free flu shot. The cost of the shot is otherwise $42.
Columbia County is also hosting walk-up COVID-19 testing site Sept. 22 and Sept. 29, from 9-11 a.m., in front of the former John L. Edwards Elementary School in Hudson. Preregistration is not required.
Greene County is holding drive-thru flu clinics from 9:30 a.m. to noon Tuesday at Riverside Park in Coxsackie; Thursday at the Windham Wastewater Treatment Plant; Sept. 29, at Dutchman’s Landing in Catskill; and Oct. 1, at Angelo Canna Town Park in Cairo. Preregistration is required by calling 518-719-3600 and selecting option 4. The cost is $51 for people age 18-64, and $80 for people over 65. The county also accepts a number of insurances.