Home Allergen Strategies Q&A: The Flu, COVID and Food Allergies

Q&A: The Flu, COVID and Food Allergies

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With the coming of fall, the COVID-19 infection rate is surging, resulting in almost 400,000 confirmed diagnoses in the last seven days alone. That surge is stretching many hospital systems to their capacity and beyond, with some forced to divert patients to other facilities hundreds of miles away.

Added to this, flu season is on the horizon. Both flu and COVID-19 infections share many similar symptoms and there is scant information on how the progression of one disease may be affected by infection with the other.

One thing is for certain: now is not the time to be hospitalized with COVID or the flu.

Should you be vaccinated against flu? What about your family? What if you have an egg allergy? We culled a number of CDC resources for this FAQ to provide you with answers to these questions and others. Each Q&A is followed by a CDC source where you can learn more.

Important note: This article is intended for those who understand vaccines as critical to maintaining their health and that of their families. It is NOT intended for those who are anti-vaccine and as such is NOT intended to foster a discussion on the merits of vaccines in this forum. It is also NOT intended to foster a discussion of the lethality of COVID-19 or the need for civic action to limit the spread of the disease.

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What is influenza (the flu)?

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications. 

There are two main types of influenza (flu) virus: Types A and B. The influenza A and B viruses that routinely spread in people (human influenza viruses) are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year.

The best way to prevent flu is by getting vaccinated each year.

Source: CDC

What is the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

Influenza (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. 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. Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between the two.

COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than 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. Another important difference is there is a vaccine to protect against flu. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.

While more is learned every day, there is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it.

Source: CDC

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Can I get the Flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes. It is possible have flu, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and COVID-19 at the same time. Health experts are still studying how common this can be.

Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with flu or COVID-19.

Source: CDC

Why is the flu vaccine especially important this year?

Efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, have led to decreased use of routine preventive medical services, including immunization services. Ensuring that people continue or start getting routine vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential for protecting people and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks, including flu. Routine vaccination prevents illnesses that lead to unnecessary medical visits and hospitalizations, which further strain the healthcare system.

For the upcoming flu season, flu vaccination will be very important to reduce flu because it can help reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the population and thus lessen the resulting burden on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A flu vaccine may also provide several individual health benefits, including keeping you from getting sick with flu, reducing the severity of your illness if you do get flu and reducing your risk of a flu-associated hospitalization.

Source: CDC

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Who should get the flu vaccine?

Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions. Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenzaPeople at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications has a full list of age and health factors that confer increased risk.

Flu vaccination has important benefits. It can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Source: CDC

Who shouldn’t get the flu vaccine?

People who SHOULD NOT get the flu shot:
  • Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu shot.
  • People with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.
People who should talk to their health care provider before getting a flu shot:

If you have one of the following conditions, talk with your health care provider.  He or she can help decide whether vaccination is right for you, and select the best vaccine for your situation:

  • If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your allergy.
  • If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get a flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your GBS history.
  • If you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Source: CDC

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Should I get the flu vaccine if I am allergic to eggs?

Most flu shots and the nasal spray flu vaccine are manufactured using egg-based technology. Because of this, they contain a small amount of egg proteins, such as ovalbumin. However, studies that have examined the use of both the nasal spray vaccine and flu shots in egg-allergic and non-egg-allergic patients indicate that severe allergic reactions in people with egg allergies are unlikely. A recent CDC study found the rate of anaphylaxis after all vaccines is 1.31 per one million vaccine doses given.

People with egg allergies can receive any licensed, recommended age-appropriate influenza vaccine (IIV, RIV4, or LAIV4) that is otherwise appropriate.  People who have a history of severe egg allergy (those who have had any symptom other than hives after exposure to egg) should be vaccinated in a medical setting, supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.

Two completely egg-free (ovalbumin-free) flu vaccine options are available: quadrivalent recombinant vaccine and quadrivalent cell-based vaccine.

Source: CDC

How can I safely get the flu vaccine if COVID-19 is spreading in my community?

When going to get a flu vaccine, practice everyday preventive actions and follow CDC recommendations for running essential errands.

Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or health department if they are following CDC’s vaccination pandemic guidance. Any vaccination location following CDC’s guidance should be a safe place for you to get a flu vaccine.

Source: CDC

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Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom is CEO and "Blogger in Chief" of SnackSafely.com.

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