Defense Public Health experts say COVID, flu prevention follow same methods

By Chanel Weaver-Folami, Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen Public AffairsJanuary 8, 2024

Cpl. Audi Edsell, a combat medic with Ansbach Health Clinic, prepares a needle for administration at Illesheim Army Air Field, Germany. Medical readiness is an important necessity for deployed Soldiers as part of the Department of Defense’s public health mission. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Gabrielle Weaver) (Photo Credit: Cpl. Gabrielle Weaver) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. –Defense public health experts are sounding the alarm and urging the general population to prevent a double threat of both COVID and flu infections.

“As the chilly temperatures drive more people indoors, the sharing of close quarters and air space provides an ideal environment for spreading germs,” said Steven Starbuck, who serves on the COVID-19 task force at the Defense Centers for Public Health–Aberdeen.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that influenza (flu) was associated with 9 million illnesses, 4 million medical visits, 10,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths during the 2021–2022 flu season.

Similarly, over the period of 2020–2023, COVID-19 has resulted in more than 6 million hospitalizations and more than one million deaths in the United States.

Additionally, some people, such as adults 65 years and older, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at higher risk of serious complications.

The CDC reports that flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses that are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) first identified in 2019. Flu is caused by infection with a flu virus (influenza viruses).

The CDC also notes that both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more frequent in children with flu, but can occur in any age with COVID-19)
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19.
U.S. Navy Sailor HM3 Sheila Laungrath, a corpsman with Marine Wing Support Squadron 272, administers the flu vaccine to a Marine during a flu vaccine exercise on Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. Medical readiness is an important necessity for deployed Soldiers as part of the Department of Defense’s public health mission. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Karina Lopezmata) (Photo Credit: Cpl. Karina Lopezmata) VIEW ORIGINAL

Although the viruses have different origins, public health officials say you can prevent both infections through similar tactics.

“Fortunately, the same methods we use to prevent the flu are just as effective to prevent COVID,” said Dr. Steven Cersovsky—a board certified physician who also serves as the Deputy Director of the Defense Centers for Public Health–Aberdeen. ”These measures include washing your hands frequently, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and staying home or wearing a mask around others if you feel sick.

While all of these measures can slow down rates of infection, Defense public health officials say that the best way to prevent both the flu and COVID is to get the appropriate vaccines each year.

“Taking the vaccines protects our workforce, our communities, and our nation,’” said Cersovsky.

For most people who need only one dose for the season, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated in September or October. While most experts agree that it is ideal to get vaccinated by the end of October, it’s important to know that vaccination, even into the new year, can still provide protection during the peak of flu season.

Kevin Delaney, chief of public health communications for DCPH-A, said that although flu and COVID-19 vaccinations have helped to slow the spread of infections, it is important to not become too relaxed.

“We will have to remain vigilant in the fight against contagious diseases,” said Delaney. “We must continue to take the necessary steps to protect our forces, our families and ourselves.”

For more information on preventing COVID-19, visit: About COVID-19 | CDC

For more information on preventing the flu visit: Influenza (Flu) | CDC

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