While public health agencies continue the battle with COVID-19, the normal flu season started in October.
The flu season typically starts in October, peaks somewhere between December and February with flu activity sometimes lingering until the end of May, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Utah Department of Health started tracking the 2020-2021 flu season on Oct. 1. Their report for the week ending Nov. 7 shows four seasonal influenza hospitalizations in the state.
All measures of flu activity show low activity and sporadic spread for the current season, all within the range of the last five flu seasons.
Influenza, or commonly “the flu,” and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.
COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.
There are some key differences between flu and COVID-19. COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than the flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. It can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer, according to the CDC.
Looking at 2019 statistics for the flu in Utah and 2020 data for COVID-19, there were 1,310 influenza associated hospitalizations in 2019 compared to 7,702 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 as of Nov. 24, 2020. That’s almost six times more COVID-19 hospitalizations in 2020 than flu hospitalizations in 2019.
The flu, with 300 deaths from flu/pneumonia, was the eleventh leading cause of death in Utah in 2019.
The leading cause of death in Utah in 2019 was diseases of the heart with 3,883 deaths. In second place was malignant neoplasms — cancer — with 3,289 deaths. Unintentional injuries were the third leading cause of death with 1,301 deaths.
Alzheimer’s disease ranked fourth with 980 deaths. Cerebrovascular disease rounded out the top five leading causes of death in Utah in 2019 with 912 deaths.
The Utah Department of Health reported 808 COVID-19 related deaths reported as of Nov. 24, 2020. That number would have ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in 2019.
Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis, according to the CDC.
Current tests for COVID-19 detect either genetic material or antigens specific to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue (tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache and some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people. Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include change in or loss of taste or smell, according to the CDC.
COVID-19 and flu can spread in similar ways, from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another —within about 6 feet. Both are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the illness cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs, according to the CDC.
It may be possible that a person can get infected by physical human contact, like shaking hands, or by touching a surface or object that has virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.
Both flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 may be spread to others by people before they begin showing symptoms, with very mild symptoms or who never developed symptoms, according to the CDC.