With the changes in the temperature and the fall season in full effect, it may be difficult to distinguish differences between the common illnesses that arise during the fall and winter seasons–specifically the flu, common cold and allergies. Now, with COVID-19, the situation gets exacerbated further. 

On Tuesday, November 17th, we held a workshop on Zoom and Facebook Live along with Angela Soto, Vaccine Task Force Community Engagement Coordinator from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to help explain the key differences between these 4 illnesses and to share important preventative measures we all can take to minimize risk and prevent exposure to these conditions.

These are the key highlights of our talk with Angela Soto:

With the growing transmission of COVID-19 throughout New York City, it is crucial to continue following the four core recommendations to limit this transmission. These include:

  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Use a mask that covers both your nose and mouth.
  • Wash your hands as often as possible with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you do not have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol base.
  • Keep physical distancing at least 6 feet apart.

What are symptoms of the flu?

Symptoms usually appear between 1-4 days after exposure to the influenza virus. These symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Coughing
  • Throat pain
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Muscular pain
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (most common among children)

Some of these symptoms are similar symptoms experienced by people with seasonal allergies or with a cold, with the exception of a fever. Seasonal allergies may not give you a fever but may give you headaches, congestion around the nose, and nasal drip.

What are the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection?

Symptoms may appear between 2-14 days after exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 (the name of the virus that causes the COVID-19 related illnesses). These symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing or labored breathing (this includes difficulty in catching your breath while walking between your bedroom to your kitchen)
  • Sore throat
  • Body pains or muscular pains
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (not uncommon to see this among adults)

COVID-19 does not always present with symptoms or the symptoms it may present with can range from mild to very severe symptoms, especially when individuals have underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Additionally, these symptoms can progress rapidly from mild or moderate symptoms to more severe symptoms.

Once an individual is progressing to having difficulty breathing, a pressure sensation or pain in the chest, confusion, or inability to readily wake up, it is important to immediately seek medical attention or call 911. At this point we are seeing that the oxygen uptake to our brains or to our organs is being compromised

Many of the symptoms that we experience with COVID-19, the flu and the common cold are very similar, and even including seasonal allergies. The only way to determine between a flu-related infection and a COVID-related infection is by getting a test: a flu test or a COVID-19 test

A major difference between now and during the peak of the pandemic, is that we now have public access to a COVID-19 test that can tell us immediately–in terms of a few hours or even minutes–if we have a COVID-19 infection, and we also have access to a flu vaccine

We did not have this in April, or at least not as accessible as we do now, which is a huge advantage in this effort to slow down or stop COVID-19 transmission. This way we are able to better isolate at home, inform our loved ones about our infection so they are able to better quarantine, and also to look out for the symptoms that require us to seek immediate medical care. 

Resources:

The DOHMH offers COVID-19 Express Clinics and also Flu Vaccination Events throughout the five boroughs on their page. Some of the community flu vaccination events also offer COVID-19 testing.

The DOHMHs Health Map also provides a list of flu vaccination locations (more than 900 locations) available throughout the five boroughs–including locations providing no cost flu shots and accepting walk-ins.

We have all seen what NYC has gone through with COVID-19, at both global and national scale–this included many stressors and trauma related to the peak of the pandemic. Now as we witness growing numbers of cases of COVID-19, it can potentially cause fear and anxiety in our communities. We encourage you to seek emotional support. Reach out to someone, check-in, reach out to trusted community members like AMPHS. Take advantage of services that are offered free at no cost such as NYC Well

NYC Well provides free, confidential mental health support and services are available in 200 languages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached online through chat, via text (“WELL” to 65173), or call at 1-888-692-9355.

Q&A:

Who should get a flu vaccine?

  • Everyone, starting at 6 months of age. There are pediatric, adult, and high dose (for those 65 years and older).

How does the flu vaccine work? Why do some people claim they get sick right after getting a flu shot or despite getting a flu shot?

  • You will not get sick from the flu vaccine. You may have a sore arm or a general malaise. This feeling indicates that our body is reacting the way we want it to react. It sees a foreign substance and is building antibodies to respond to that and protect us against any influenza viruses. 
  • The flu vaccine will protect individuals from more serious influenza related symptoms and illness and will keep individuals from feeling worse in terms of symptoms, especially for those with underlying conditions, or avoid individuals from going to the hospital and avoid further COVID-19 transmission.
  • If people do get sick, there is a small proportion of individuals who are allergic to some of the ingredients that are in the vaccine. For example, eggs. This proportion is very small and many of these individuals already know that they are allergic because many have grown up aware of this allergy. 
  • It is more likely that individuals who may be experiencing after effects after taking the vaccine, were exposed to the virus days before taking the vaccine and maybe coincided with getting the flu vaccine. 
  • There are many types of influenza viruses, not just the ones found in the flu vaccine, but the flu vaccine has the most common or prevalent ones. We obtain this information from the southern hemisphere, which experiences their winter while we experience our summer.

Does the COVID-19 test have a cost?

  • There is no cost for a COVID-19 test. There are some locations that may only provide a COVID-19 test if the person has health insurance. But there are also many locations that offer COVID-19 without cost. The DOHMH’s COVID Express Clinics provide COVID-19 tests–with appointment–at no cost and provide results within hours.

The DOHMH also provides a map and list of COVID-19 testing sites by address, zip code or city. Some locations may have cost or require health insurance, so it is best to call the location ahead of time in case there are any doubts.