OGDEN, Utah (AP) — As if COVID-19 weren’t enough to worry about, flu season is gearing up, giving those already jittery about every cough and sneeze more to fret over.
Is the sore throat due to the flu or COVID-19? What about those aches and pains?
Accordingly, Utah health officials are urging the public, now more than ever, to get vaccinated against the flu.
“It is more important than ever to get your flu shot this season! This year we will be facing a bigger challenge than ever — seasonal influenza that is still not fully preventable confounded by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Filip Roos, chief medical officer for Ogden Regional Medical Center.
The added urgency stems in part from the symptoms the ailments share and concerns about confusing them.
“Many of the symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 are similar, and it can be difficult to figure out which infection a person has,” said Tamara Sheffield, medical director of community health and prevention for Intermountain Healthcare. “Symptoms that the two infections share are a dry cough, fever and chills, fatigue, achiness. People with COVID-19 sometimes have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing and sometimes have a loss of taste or smell, while people with influenza rarely have those symptoms. Headaches are more common in influenza than in COVID-19. Both occasionally show symptoms of sore throat, runny or stuffy nose or diarrhea.”
What’s more, Roos said, vaccinating will keep instances of flu down, tempering the number of hospitalizations required for the ailment, thereby reserving medical resources to deal with COVID-19 cases.
Sheffield said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for a dramatic increase nationwide in flu vaccinations. Intermountain Healthcare facilities, accordingly, are bracing and preparing. McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden is an Intermountain Healthcare facility.
“We have been asked to vaccinate hundreds of thousands more people in Utah against influenza than we usually do,” Sheffield said. To do so, “Intermountain Healthcare clinics and pharmacies have ordered extra vaccine and are creating extended hours, flu vaccine clinics and drive-up events to provide as much flu vaccine as possible to our communities.”
Already, signs are popping up outside pharmacies offering flu shots. The public may call the Weber-Morgan Health Department at 801-399-7252 to make an appointment to get a shot, with a drive-through clinic scheduled for Oct. 1, according to Lori Buttars, the department spokesperson.
But surveillance for the flu begins in earnest in early October, with the seasonal case count typically peaking in January or February, though it can come earlier or later, said Trevor Warner, spokesman for the Davis County Health Department. “The important message we want people to understand is that they need to get a flu shot, and then get a COVID-19 shot whenever it becomes available!” Warner said in an email.
Roos said Utah Department of Health guidelines call for those with COVID-19 and flu-like symptoms to test for COVID-19 as a precaution. At the same time, Warner noted that it can be hard to differentiate between the ailments without a test.
“Again, if you are sick stay home. Treat any flu-like symptoms like they are COVID-19 and make sure to follow all precautions outlined by the Department of Health. This includes self-isolation for up to 14 days,” Roos said.
Sheffield said the CDC will soon be offering more detailed guidance on contending with influenza amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC already has a slew of information online differentiating between influenza and COVID-19 at cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm.
Health experts continue to recommend social distancing, frequent hand washing and use of face coverings to guard against COVID-19.
The COVID-19 case count for Weber and Morgan counties totaled 176 for the week ending last Saturday, down from 206 the week before, according to Weber-Morgan Health Department data. Since early August, the weekly case count has hovered between 150 and 206, a far cry from the peak of 413 for the week ending July 18.
Similarly, the weekly case count in Davis County has settled at a lower level than the peak of 438 for the week ending July 18. From 200 cases for the week ending Aug. 15, the weekly total has increased to 269 for the week ending last Saturday.