Flu season has begun in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, changing our usual questions about where to get the flu shot to “how can I tell the difference between colds, flu and COVID-19 — and how can I avoid getting them?”

The good news is that many experts believe typical flu outbreaks might be reduced this year, thanks to measures such as wearing masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing, says Amica National Clinical Educator, Jennifer McNeil. (Don’t forget to frequently clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items, too.) However, those same experts warn that if we don’t continue with these measures, in addition to self-isolating when we are sick, we could see a further resurgence in COVID-19 cases and higher influenza rates. That means that every one of us has an important part to play in prevention.

A senior woman wearing a protective face mask while sitting in her car.

Start with the flu shot

As Health Canada says, flu shots are safe and the absolute best way to protect yourself and the people close to you from influenza — especially those over 65 or with existing health conditions. It can literally save lives, as an average of 3,500 people die due to flu-related illness each year in Canada. Seasonal flu vaccines will be available at in-residence clinics for Amica residents and team members.

Book early to get your flu shot at local drug stores, pharmacies, public health units and your doctor or nurse practitioner: the flu shot takes up to two weeks to take effect. Note that the flu shot won’t protect you from getting COVID-19, but it will reduce the probability of getting the flu and the novel coronavirus simultaneously, which could be severe. It also won’t avert “stomach flu” caused by noroviruses, as the flu shot targets the influenza virus only.

Watch for COVID-19 symptoms

Amica has been taking strict safety measures since early 2020 and educating residents and their families about the novel coronavirus. So, if you’re not feeling well, don’t assume it’s a cold or allergies. Talk to your health professional or use the Health Canada COVID-19 self-assessment tool to see if you need to be tested, and self-isolate for up to 14 days or until you receive a negative test. (There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19 yet, although some treatment options exist.) While some people have COVID-19 without any symptoms, those who do may experience:

  • New changes to taste
  • Loss of smell
  • Sore throat
  • New or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever and temperature equal to or over 37.8°C
  • Chills
  • New fatigue or weakness
  • Muscle or body pain
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling very unwell

Know your flu signs and symptoms

A lot of rest and fluids typically helps people recover from flu within seven to 10 days, but seniors need to be especially cautious. How long is the flu contagious? Usually from the day before symptoms appear until five days after they arise. It can be difficult to tell the difference between flu and COVID-19 symptoms, so talk to your doctor or nurse about COVID-19 testing if you’re experiencing these flu signs or symptoms.

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Runny eyes
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Extreme new weakness and tiredness
  • Loss of appetite

Don’t take colds lightly

Cold symptoms tend to be milder and develop more slowly than typically sudden and severe flu. Still, colds can lead to infections, so it’s ideal, especially for seniors — to play it safe and talk to a health professional about the following cold symptoms.

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Mild to moderate cough
  • Sore throat
  • Chills (fever is rare)
  • Mild headache, tiredness and/or muscle pain

While it’s clearly challenging to tell the different signs and symptoms of COVID-19, flu and colds apart, prevention of all three illnesses is remarkably similar. Wear a mask indoors and out whenever you’re within two metres (six feet) of people outside of your household, regularly wash your hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol, stay home if you’re sick and follow Amica visitor restrictions, as well as your municipal and provincial guidelines to help reduce COVID-19 spread. That applies to young and middle-aged caregivers, too – COVID-19 cases are now highest among people aged 20 to 59.

Truly, we’re all in this together, and Amica will continue supporting the health of you and your family every step of the way.

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