"So beginning this fall, the US for the first time will have to deal with a flu season wrapped in a global pandemic. Or, as the headline on a recent editorial by Edward Belongia, MD, and Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, described it, 'a perfect storm.'"
So, what does that mean? Truly, the experts don’t know yet. While some initial hypotheses can be made based on the COVID-19 and flu season in China early on or the spreading in the southern hemisphere, health experts cannot predict exactly what will happen. However, they are watching the trends closely and are concerned for the medical care system.
“We can expect that the new reality of COVID-19 will only complicate the next influenza season,” Singer, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, concluded in his editorial. In typical years (of which this is not one), the flu is the eighth leading cause of death. Additionally, the two diseases have similar systems, which makes it even more complicated to know which a person is suffering from.
Symptoms of the flu
Symptoms of COVID-19
|fever* or feeling feverish/chills||Fever or chills|
|sore throat||Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing|
|runny or stuffy nose||Fatigue|
|muscle or body aches||Muscle or body aches|
|fatigue (tiredness)||New loss of taste or smell|
|some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.||Sore throat|
|Congestion or runny nose|
|Nausea or vomiting|
So, what is the response health experts are recommending for the individual?
According to the New York Times, “The concern about a twindemic is so great that officials around the world are pushing the flu shot even before it becomes available in clinics and doctors’ offices. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been talking it up, urging corporate leaders to figure out ways to inoculate employees. The C.D.C. usually purchases 500,000 doses for uninsured adults but this year ordered an additional 9.3 million doses.”
What can employers do to fight the Twindemic?
Distribute the flu shot to employees
Flu season in Texas officially begins September 29. In order for the flu shot to be most effective, it should be distributed before the season begins. In 2019, 34,200 people died from the flu, and more than 35.5 million people were diagnosed with the flu.
Teach flu safety procedures to your team
Flu safety is remarkably similar to COVID-19 safety. A reminder of the proper procedure or a vocalization of the efficacy can make a difference in application.
- Cover your face when you sneeze or cough
- Wash your hands frequently
- Sleep well, avoid stress, and add exercise and healthy eating to keep your immune system healthy
Finally, an education in the highly contagious nature of the flu and support for sick days from you, the employer, can do quite a bit to keep your team healthy.
Employees are increasingly hesitant to take a day off, even when they are ill. One in four employees in a recent survey said they would have to be hospitalized before taking a day off. Nine out of 10 admitted to coming in to work ill. These employees are the ones who will spread the virus among the team. Even if they don’t take off, their productivity, and that of the team, is damaged. It is up to you, the employer, to encourage your team to take sick days and to lead by example. If you are sick, take the day and let your team know.
This flu season, keep yourself and your business healthy by partnering with your occupational medicine provider.