Autumn is all around us! The air is crisp. Pumpkins are everywhere. Trees are painted shades of orange, yellow, and red. And... the COVID-19 pandemic is still here. In fact, it is more than “still here”; we need to prepare for an imminent second wave!
The resurgence of COVID-19 is further complicated by the onset of flu season. If ever there was a time to ensure that both we and our patients are being diligent about getting our flu vaccines, it is 2020! So set an example for your family and for your patients and get your flu vaccine this week. Remind your patients that they can get their flu shots free, in most cases, by going to their local pharmacy. Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS are all advertising free flu shots. (I went to my local CVS and was in and out in 8 minutes!)
It can be useful to review the different symptoms of the common cold, flu, and COVID-19. There are no guarantees that these illnesses will exactly match their symptom profile, but with 6 months of circulating respiratory illnesses in our future, it can help to provide your patients and their families with some guidance.
The Common Cold:
Chest discomfort and cough (mild)
Fatigue (usually milder than flu or COVID-19)
Fever or feeling feverish/chills
Muscle or body aches
Runny or stuffy nose
Vomiting and diarrhea (a less common symptom; more typical in children than adults)
Fever or chills (often a high fever)
Cough (usually dry and painful)
Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing (often with wheezing)
Muscle or body aches (typically more severe than with the flu)
Headaches that are intense
Fatigue (commonly severe)
Loss of taste or smell
Nausea or vomiting
For Any Illness:
Seek medical attention if you have:
Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
New confusion or difficulties waking up
Bluish lips or face
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
As you can see, these symptoms do overlap, which can make it tricky to differentiate one disease from another. Most people should be familiar with how it feels when they have the common cold; however, and by getting a flu shot, they can reduce the possibility of contracting that common virus. COVID-19 is totally different and must be taken very seriously. Follow all of your institution’s policies and procedures for COVID-19 scrupulously, and if you believe there is a possibility that you may be infected, then testing is critical to determine definitively if the symptoms are related to COVID-19. Patients should also be tested and follow the protocols that have been developed and implemented for this purpose.
When in doubt, self-quarantine. Even if it’s not COVID-19 but “just” the flu, it’s best to stay away from others.
Colder weather means that people will be spending more time indoors, and it’s more important than ever to practice COVID-19 safety measures. It’s been a long year. Nobody wants to tell children that their birthday parties should be postponed or made virtual and that Halloween can’t involve neighborhood trick-or-treating. The prospect of skipping big Thanksgiving and Christmas parties and celebrating in person only with members of the family you live with is sad for everyone. But it’s the smart thing to do, and by being safe this year, we can increase our chances of being able to celebrate with everyone we care about in person next year.
We have to be judicious. We should not take risks ourselves, and we must urge our patients not to take risks, especially those who are in active treatment with compromised immune systems making them even more vulnerable. For patients you aren’t seeing regularly at present, pick up the phone and call them, Zoom with them, or video MyChart with them to provide encouragement to stick with these important safety practices through the fall and winter months. I know that many of us have COVID fatigue, but I would rather feel a little grumpy about the restrictions that are necessary to stay safe than for any of us to become a statistic.
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