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Isanti County Public Health hosted an online public presentation via WebEx on Oct. 22 that looked at differences between the novel coronavirus and the influenza virus.

Dr. Christopher Filetti, a pediatrician for the Cambridge Medical Center, and Joan Schleicher, Isanti County Public Health nurse, were the keynote speakers of the program. The public joined the program via phone call or WebEx application. After Filetti and Schleicher each finished their presentation, attendees asked questions they had.

Timing

The biggest difference between the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, and influenza (flu) is timing. Filetti said infected people can be contagious with the flu one day before the onset of symptoms and until seven days after. Flu symptoms start around one to four days after being infected. The first week of illness is when an infected person is sickest with the flu, Filetti said.

However, a person can be contagious with COVID-19 two days before the onset of symptoms up to 14 days following symptoms, Filetti said. Symptoms of COVID-19 may last up to 20 days and may require hospitalization if conditions worsen.

“Flu hits you a lot quicker and leaves a lot quicker, thankfully, while COVID-19 kind of sneaks up on you,” Filetti said. “So typical example is, someone starts feeling a little sick in the morning, and by afternoon they feel like they got hit by a Mack truck with the flu. With COVID-19, you are sick for a few days — no big deal — around day five is when you really get sick. You can get to a little bit of recovery from that. And then, you can get sick yet again on week two or three. So the timing is the big difference between the two.”

Symptoms

Both the flu and COVID-19 can cause fever, cough, shortness of breath, headaches, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, and tiredness. However, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are known to be more common in children. What’s different about COVID-19 is that it can cause a loss of taste and smell, and it’s a “much more serious illness,” Filetti said.

“This is not just a stuffy nose,” he said. “People describe … they can’t smell anything else but burnt wood.”

High-risk groups

People who have asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and underlying immune-suppressed conditions as well as smokers, pregnant women, and the elderly are at a higher risk of serious complications if they contract COVID-19 or the flu. There have been cases where people contracted both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, Filetti said.

“In studies done in China and Europe, about 1 out of 2 and 1 out of 4 adults who were sick enough to be hospitalized had another infection like the flu,” he said.

Complications

COVID-19 and the flu can cause pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis, heart attack, stroke, multiple-organ failure, worsening of chronic medical conditions in addition to inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues, and secondary bacterial infection.

“COVID-19 can also cause a multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, blood clots in heart, lung, brain or legs,” Filetti said.

Prevention and mitigation

There are safety measures people can practice in their daily lives during the COVID-19 pandemic: hand washing, coughing into a bent elbow, wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, especially indoors, as well as sleeping at least seven hours a day, eating healthy, and taking multivitamin supplements daily with meals. All these efforts can help reduce the spread and severity of COVID-19 among people, Filetti said.

“There’s one study that suggested the mortality rate is cut in half if your vitamin D level is normal,” Filetti said. “Half the country is low on vitamin D. … It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, so you want to take that with a meal.”

Flu vaccine more important than ever

A flu vaccine can reduce intensive care unit hospitalization by 60% and death by 80%, Filetti said. There are other antiviral treatments for the flu such as Tamiflu, hospital supportive care, and oxygenation. But for COVID-19, there’s only supportive care, though therapeutics and vaccines are being tested and developed, he said.

“Vaccines are in phase 3 trials, so they need to be proven correct,” he said. “There are some countries such as Russia that just throw a vaccine at you. But I wouldn’t trust the vaccine from Russia. I do trust our system for vaccines.”

If people receive their flu vaccines early, hospitals will be less overwhelmed with having to treat patients with the flu and COVID-19, especially during the fall and winter seasons, Schleicher added.

“Even though you might still get ill after getting that influenza vaccine,” she said, “adults hospitalized with the flu (who were) vaccinated were 59% less likely to be admitted to the ICU. And if they’re in the ICU, they will be discharged four days sooner than those who were not vaccinated. So it’s very important to still get that vaccine.”

Most health insurance companies cover flu vaccines, and the locations that offer vaccines include:

• For ages 19 and older, CVS Pharmacy in Target in Cambridge, 763-689-3687.

• For ages 19 and older, Walmart Pharmacy in Cambridge, 763-689-0609.

• For ages 6 and older, Coborn’s Pharmacy in Isanti, 763-444-0005.

• For ages 6 and older, Walgreens Pharmacy in Cambridge, 763-552-3103.

Appointments are required for receiving a flu vaccine in the following clinics:

• Allina Health Cambridge Clinic, 763-689-8700.

• Allina Health Isanti Clinic, 763-688-9700.

Infants and children up to age 18 who are either on Medical Assistance, uninsured or underinsured and adults who are uninsured or underinsured may qualify to receive a flu vaccine through the Isanti County Public Health, which can be reached at 763-689-4071.

Situation update on COVID-19

The Minnesota Department of Health provides daily updates regarding its COVID-19 data. As of Oct. 28, Isanti County has 583 confirmed COVID-19 cases and five deaths; Chisago County has 1,114 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths.

To stay up-to-date with the COVID-19 information, visit t.ly/QcJG.

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