Person holding a tissue to their nose

Prepare For The Dual Hit Of Flu & COVID-19

HealthPlans of NC

Dr. Larry Wu

The signs are everywhere. If leaves are falling, you’re probably seeing messages to get your flu shot. This year, that recommendation takes on even greater importance. The coming flu season on top of the COVID-19 pandemic could put more people at risk for severe illness and overwhelm doctor offices and hospitals just as COVID-19 infections are expected to start rising again.

It’s especially troubling since people may be postponing their annual physicals or putting off regular vaccinations. But getting your flu shot is one way to protect yourself – and others – this winter.

COVID-19 vs. influenza: What’s the difference?

Though caused by different viruses, the flu and COVID-19 have several things in common. Both are contagious respiratory illnesses that affect the lungs and breathing. They spread in the same way – people catch this kind of virus by inhaling viral droplets in the air or touching surfaces that have virus on them.

Symptoms are similar with fever, cough, body aches, shortness of breath, sore throat, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children). COVID-19 also may cause sudden loss of taste or smell. Both flu and COVID-19 can be mild or severe, or even fatal. Both can lead to pneumonia and heart or lung complications. In general, COVID-19 is more contagious and with potentially longer lasting effects.

Because the two illnesses can look similar, it may take a lab test to confirm if you have COVID-19 or the flu (or both). If you think you might have the flu or COVID-19, check our symptom decision chart at Or call our nurses at Health Line Blue at any time at 1-877-477-2424.

Pregnant? A flu shot will be especially important for you!

When you’re pregnant, there is a higher risk that the flu can cause complications. Pregnancy can increase the severity of flu symptoms and can require hospitalization due to complications.

Having a flu shot reduces your chances of getting the flu by and minimizes its severity. It also protects your baby during their first 6 months of life. To learn more about getting the flu vaccine while pregnant, download the My Pregnancy Blue Cross NC app.

It’s not too late to get your flu shot

One of the obvious differences between the two illnesses is a flu vaccine is available now. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina encourages all North Carolinians to get immunized, and the sooner the better. Children as young as 6 months can benefit from it. If you are 65 or older, ask your doctor if you should have the high-dose flu vaccine.

Many Blue Cross NC members are eligible to receive a flu shot at no cost with an in-network provider. And you don’t have to get a flu shot at a doctor’s office. You can also go to a walk-in clinic or pharmacy. Find an in-network doctor, clinic or pharmacy near you using our Find a Doctor tool. Be sure to check your plan for any applicable copays, deductibles or coinsurance. For those who do not have health insurance, local health departments may be a good source for flu vaccination.

How effective is the flu shot? While no vaccine can promise total immunity, the flu shot may keep symptoms more manageable if you do contract the virus. The flu vaccine boosts your antibodies to avoid the flu now and perhaps in future years.  Remember, it will not protect you from the novel coronavirus – potential COVID-19 vaccines are still in clinical trials.

COVID-19 prevention practices can also help curb flu spread

Here’s some good news: The precautions we’re taking for COVID-19 will also help in preventing the spread of the flu. In fact, positive influenza cases fell sharply by early April 2020, most likely due to our new focus on hand hygiene and social distancing. Following these preventive health measures could help reduce the spread of flu as well as COVID-19 infections in the winter months.

Need more information about health insurance? Contact the Health Plans of NC independent agent on this page.

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