As the fall approaches, health officials are keeping an even closer eye on the seasonal flu in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Barbara Taylor, assistant dean of UT Health Science Center, said Tuesday that officials are especially concerned this year because the flu and coronavirus can be contracted at the same time. Symptoms – both lingering and current – also may impact the ability to determine prevalence in the community.

“When you have both of the viruses at the same time – we don’t have a lot of data on it but we know that can happen – both of those viruses can give you pneumonia,” Taylor said. “Influenza tends to stay in the top of your respiratory system whereas COVID-19 tends to go to your lungs, but they both can make you feel pretty miserable for quite some time.”

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COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, and 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, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both COVID-19 and flu vary from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Influenza symptoms include muscle or body aches headaches, tiredness, and some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.

While influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses.

Thousands of Bexar County residents each year contract the flu. Between September 2019 and February 2020, more than 6,000 people were diagnosed with influenza.

In November 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Texas among seven states, along with Puerto Rico, where flu activity was rated as “high” for the week beginning Nov. 10, which was much lower than the year before.

Influenza A made up 52 percent of the diagnosed flu cases between September 2019 and February 2020, while influenza B accounted for the rest of the cases. The variations on flu type and relative symptoms are even more important during the coronavirus pandemic due to symptom similarities.

While flu can be contracted year-round, the CDC tracks influenza activity beginning in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.

Cases of influenza A and B are down from last year, according to Metro Health data.

There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. However, flu viruses A and B are the only ones thought to cause seasonal flu epidemics each winter (influenza C is typically mild, and influenza D affects cattle), according to the CDC. Influenza B typically comes after influenza A, hitting later in the season around springtime. 

In a Tuesday night media briefing, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he and his wife, Tracy, already had gotten their annual flu shot and urged others to do the same, which Taylor emphasized.

“Please, please, everybody get your flu shot,” Taylor said. “It is so important this year because you do not want these illnesses at the same time.”

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the San Antonio Report.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.