This article was last updated September 10, 2020.
In the United States, flu season happens in the fall and winter. While influenza viruses circulate year-round, flu activity typically peaks between December and February. Still, flu activity can last until as late as May. Viral infections can cause or aggravate an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto's. Hence, patients need to be extra diligent in caring for their health during the cold and flu season!
In 2020, there is concern about the flu overlapping with COVID. Both influenza and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses, but different viruses cause each. COVID-19 is caused by an infection from a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Separately, flu is caused by an infection from an influenza virus. There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. A and B are the types that spread in people and are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year.
Symptoms of the flu and COVID-19
While scientists learn more every day, there is still a lot unknown about COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Distinguishing the difference between the flu and COVID-19 based on symptoms alone may be difficult, and testing can confirm a diagnosis.
Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of symptoms and severity. Similarities between COVID-19 and flu symptoms include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea
One notable sign of COVID-19, different from flu, may include a change in or loss of taste or smell.
Taking preventative measures to protect against both the flu and COVID-19 is essential to protect your health and others' health as we head into flu season. Preventive measures may also help to avoid more COVID-19 testing shortages.
Both COVID-19 and the flu are transmitted, for the most part, by respiratory droplets. Experts recommend using the same prevention strategies we use for coronavirus to prevent the spread of the flu.
Get the flu vaccine
The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield, says, "This is a critical year for us to try to take flu as much off the table as we can." Being proactive in preventing the flu will save lives and preserve medical resources as we continue to fight COVID-19. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for everyone - including those with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. There are no proven contraindications with your thyroid condition or any thyroid medications you take.
Find out where to get vaccinated using the CDC's VaccineFinder website.
Wash your hands often
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
It's especially important to wash your hands:
- Before eating or preparing food
- Before touching your face
- After using the restroom
- After leaving a public place
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After handling your mask
- After changing a diaper
- After caring for someone sick
- After touching animals or pets
Eat a nutrient-rich diet
Eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that includes fish, shellfish, organ meats, and fruits and vegetables to ensure you get sufficient vitamins and minerals. Focus on increasing specific nutrients that strengthen and modulate the immune system like vitamins A and D, zinc, and selenium.
You may want to avoid immune stimulating herbs and foods like:
- Some herbal supplements like echinacea or astragalus
- Medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, matikake, reishi)
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Caffeine (found in coffee or green tea)
Stay physically active
Aim for 30 minutes of physical exercise that you enjoy 3-5 times per week. Exercise may feel difficult with classes or gyms shut due to the pandemic, but movement is essential for immune surveillance. When you do physical activity, your body deploys certain types of white blood cells to your bloodstream. These cells perform a process of monitoring the immune system to detect and destroy virally infected cells in the body.
Get enough sleep
Sleep and the circadian system help to regulate the immune system. Our bodies need enough time to rest and recharge to maintain proper communication between the neuroendocrine and immune systems to respond to a stimulus or infection. We recommend 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Maintain physical distance
Keep six feet (about two arm's length) of space between yourself and people who don't live in your household. Maintaining physical distance is especially important for people at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, including:
- Older people
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- An organ transplant
- Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
- Serious heart conditions
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Some people with an immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) — from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids or other immune-weakening medicines — may be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. If you have an autoimmune thyroid disease like Hashimoto's thyroiditis, you are not necessarily immunocompromised.
Cover coughs and sneezes
When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use your elbow's crook. Do not spit and throw used tissues into the trash. Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds afterward.
Clean and disinfect
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily like tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
Vaccine for the flu
Multiple FDA-licensed influenza vaccines come out annually to protect against the handful of flu viruses that scientists anticipate will circulate each year.
If you get sick with the flu, antiviral drugs may be a treatment option. These drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick. Antiviral drugs may also prevent serious complications, like pneumonia.
Vaccine for COVID-19
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Vaccine developers and other researchers and manufacturers are expediting the development of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
A note from Paloma Health
While we work hard to bring you the most up-to-date information, Paloma Health is not a research body. We recommend that you continue to monitor the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization websites for reliable COVID-19 updates and information.