How is the Flu Season Different During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The flu season peaks annually from December to February. This year has seen a marked decrease in seasonal infections even as the COVID-19 pandemic surges on. Influenza and COVID-19 are both severe and contagious respiratory illnesses, which affect your lungs and breathing. Even though they both present very similar symptoms, they are caused by two entirely different viruses. 

A Decrease in Influenza Rates

The COVID-19 virus has taken the lives of approximately 1.5 million people and affected 67 million people worldwide. Tackling the COVID-19 virus and the influenza virus simultaneously was proving to be a topic of great discourse and marked fear. Usually, when December arrives, so does the annual flu season. However, this year there has been a marked decrease in the flu rates, dropping to a historically low percentage in the US. 

Health care workers and other specialists say that this decline in flu rates could be attributed to the decline of people coming to clinics to get themselves tested. Other reasons could be the stringent rules being in effects such as several lockdowns, social distancing and wearing masks in public spaces. The fear of the COVID-19 virus, being far deadlier than the influenza virus made people take extra precautions and sanitary measures leading to the decline of the flu. It is important, however, to know the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and the flu, to further protect yourself. 

Similarities Between COVID-19 and the Flu

Symptoms:

  • Both of the illnesses can cause symptoms such as body ache, headache, sore throat, coughs and sometimes even vomiting and diarrhoea, especially in children. 
  • They can be mild, severe and even fatal if the diseases progress further without medical intervention.
  •  A person can be an asymptomatic carrier, meaning they show none of the above symptoms but can still transmit the disease unknowingly. 

The Spread of the Virus:

  • They spread similarly with droplets or smaller particles of the virus transmitting from a sick person to other people nearby. Some of the particles may even linger in the air, and another person may inhale them and become infected.
  • It can also spread by people touching infected surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose and mouth. 
  • It is possible to spread the virus at least one day before experiencing symptoms.

Treatment and Prevention:

  • The diseases are not treatable with antibiotics, which only work on bacterial infections.
  • Since there is no immediate cure, they are both treated by addressing symptoms, such as reducing fever, headaches and body aches. Severe cases may require hospitalization and the person may need a ventilator.
  • Antiviral medications are prescribed which may shorten the duration of both illnesses.
  • The diseases can be prevented by wearing a mask, frequent and thorough hand washing, covering of the mouth while coughing, staying home when sick and limiting contact with people who are infected, and social distancing.

Vaccines:

  • The FDA has approved a couple of Flu shots to be taken by individuals aged 6 months and older. It is advised to take these shots as it helps strengthen your body’s immune system to be able to fight the virus. 
  • A COVID-19 vaccine which was in the works has also been recently made available for those wishing to take it. Our earlier blog post talks about the mRNA vaccine in more detail.

Differences Between COVID-19 and the Flu

Cause:

  • COVID-19  is caused by the novel coronavirus also known as SARS-CoV-2 whereas Influenza is caused by the influenza virus, which could be of a variety of types.  

The Spread of the Virus:

  • While both of the viruses spread similarly, COVID-19 has proven to spread more among certain age groups and populations as compared to the flu.
  • COVID-19: A person can spread the virus for about 2 days before experiencing symptoms and remaining contagious for 10 days post their first symptoms.
  • Influenza: Most people with the flu are contagious for about 1 day before they start showing any symptoms. 

Treatment and Prevention:

COVID-19: Antiviral drugs are being administered to most patients, with other treatments being tested out to see if they can improve the symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. 

Influenza: Oral antiviral drugs approved by the FDA are administered to patients. 

If you get sick with the flu or COVID-19, it is best to get checked at the earliest, especially for certain people with high-risk complications such as young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions. Get tested for COVID-19 at Buckhead Medicine at the earliest. You can even schedule routine check-ups at our medical practice, book online appointments or avail our concierge services. We at Buckhead Medicine do our best to ensure our patients’ safety. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more updates. 

A Look at Vitamin D & Calcium Supplementation

[fusion_text]The topic of Vitamin D and Calcium supplementation seems to pop up quite frequently on the evening news. Recent reports on the benefits of Vitamin D have been closely followed by concerns over side effects of too much Vitamin D. Experts vary in the recommendation of supplementation from 500 units daily to 50,000 units weekly, depending on whether you are Vitamin D deficient or insufficient.  As far as Calcium goes, experts also have varying opinions that seem to change yearly. Some say you should take Calcium daily, others caution that we may be taking too much Calcium. So, what’s the big deal about Vitamin D and Calcium supplementation anyway?

In order to fully understand Vitamin D and Calcium supplementation, it’s important to understand why we supplement to begin with.  In a nutshell, as we get older the likelihood of bony fractures or falls leading to bony fractures increase because our bone density decreases.  Loss in bone density is called osteopenia and in more severe cases osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the U.S. and a major risk factor for fractures. In the U.S. there are more than 1.5 million osteoporotic fractures each year, attributing to an annual cost of $15 Billion in health care and disability expenses. Overall, osteoporosis affects women more than men, but it does affect men to a significant degree.

Fractures at a young age may at face value not seem so bad, but a fracture such as a hip fracture at an older age is much more significant and is associated with many other medical problems. Winter 2011 dealt Atlanta  a pretty significant snow storm (I would call it ice storm).  I can’t tell you how many people I came in contact with who slipped and fell or knew someone who slipped and fell.  I know it sounds odd, but one of my initial thoughts when I hear of a fall is, “I hope they have dense bones.”  I frequently see elderly patients who are hospitalized due to a fall that resulted in a hip fracture. They undergo surgery and post operatively develop worsening of their existing medical conditions such as tachycardia, or heart failure, or may develop new problems such as pneumonia or blood clots. Regardless, my point is that fractures at an older age can lead to many medical complications. The best strategy is prevention of osteopenia and osteoporosis and, consequently, avoidance of fractures. That’s the big deal about Vitamin D and Calcium Supplementation.

To be clear, it’s not just supplementation or the lack of supplementation that predisposes us to decreased bone density. A variety of genetic factors can predispose a person to low bone mass, such as gender, race, body build and family history.   Acquired factors also predispose us to low bone density including a diet low in Calcium or Vitamin D, early menopause, a sedentary lifestyle, and cigarette smoking.

Let’s initially discuss prevention and screening of decreased bone density. Everyone clearly agrees that prevention is key. The health habits of individuals in early and middle life play a role in their risk of osteoporosis as they age.  Adequate dietary intake of Calcium and Vitamin D, active physical exercise and avoidance of excess alcohol, tobacco and drugs known to cause osteopenia are all useful measures for the prevention of osteoporosis.  As far as screening goes, we usually screen people with multiple fractures, women in the perimenopausal time of their life, as well as people with medical conditions that may predispose them to osteoporosis, such as hyperparathyroidism or other endocrine problems. The most commonly used test for screening is the DEXA bone scan.  DEXA bone scans are available at most hospitals in Atlanta, including Piedmont and Northside Hospital.  DEXA bone scans assist physicinas in making the diagnosis of osteoporosis at guide us in determinining treatment stratagies. Ask your doctor if she or he recommends this test for you.

As with most medical topics there is some degree of disagreement among the experts.  How and who to supplement is what is usually debated. In November of 2010, the Institute of Medicine released their new recommendations for supplementation.  This report was good juicy material for journalists. It became news because it was somewhat of a change of opinion from the existing recommendations. In this report the IOM reviewed the existing data on Vitamin D and Calcium supplementation.  The report recommended specific individual daily requirements for optimum bone health that were slightly changed from the existing recommendations. The IOM underscored the importance of not over supplementing Vitamin D and Calcium in patients without deficiency.  A couple of additional important points that were made were based on the medical communities views that Vitamin D and Calcium may play key roles in the immune system as well as in supporting a person’s overall cardiovascular health. The IOM report concluded that current evidence does not support other benefits for Vitamin D or Calcium intake such as immune system or cardiovascular benefits.  The other key point they highlighted was the concern over measurement of Vitamin D.  In the medical community we have for some time expressed concern over how reliable the lab results are when measuring a person’s Vitamin D level in the blood. The IOM report raised concern in the reliability of laboratories performing serum Vitamin D levels as these may have high variability and may possibly be over estimating the number of Vitamin D deficient persons.   If you click on this link you will be directed to a pdf file that contains a summary of the IOM report, as well as my recommendations for supplementation.

As far as treatment goes, when people develop osteoporosis and associated fractures, separate from continued supplementation with Calcium and Vitamin D, there are treatments that help to prevent further excessive bone loss, promote bone formation, prevent fractures, reduce pain, and restore physical function. These medications, although somewhat controversial on their own, are available as a treatment strategy. These include: Estrogen Replacement, Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMS), Bisponsphonates, and Calcitonin. If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, I encourage you to speak with your primary care provider and/or endocrinologist to discuss these treatment options.[/fusion_text]

Living Healthy

Ive put together a simple guide for living healthy that provides basic recommendations including heart healty diet, preventive health, sleep, and spirituality. Hope you find this useful. I appreciate any feedback you may have on this guide.

Living Healthy (click on this link)