What if you get both the flu and Covid-19?


Coughing is a symptom of many diseases, including both Covid-19 and the flu, making them hard to distinguish from one another. — AFP

Having a cough, fever, and body aches?

You might be wondering whether it could be Covid-19 or the flu, but neither you nor your doctor will be able to tell the difference until you get tested for one or both of these infectious diseases.

You might be relieved if the doctor says you do not have Covid-19.

However, your jubilation would be short-lived if you are found to be suffering from severe flu instead.

Immunise4Life Technical Committee chairman Professor Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail says: “Everyone is afraid of Covid-19, and for good reason, however, we must not lose sight of influenza or the flu.

“In some cases, the flu can lead to life-threatening complications (such as pneumonia and multi-organ failure) that may lead to death.

"It can also worsen medical conditions like heart disease, asthma and diabetes.

“Anyone can catch the flu. However, certain people are more likely to develop severe flu and flu complications.

"They include those with long-term medical conditions (heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes), immunocompromised persons, pregnant women, children below five years of age, and adults over 60.”

The consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist advises that such individuals be vaccinated against the flu every year as the main flu virus strains vary from year to year.

"It is one of the best tools available to help prevent severe illness and complications arising from the disease.

"It will spare them the personal distress of getting hospitalised for the flu and avert the need to take up vital medical resources that would otherwise go to Covid-19 and other patients during the pandemic," he says.

He adds that: “Young and healthy people will also benefit from an annual flu shot.

"It will help reduce their risk of getting infected and enable them to keep working, especially in these tough economic times.

“Even if you don’t think you will get really sick from the flu, you should still get vaccinated so that you do not get infected and pass it on to a vulnerable loved one, such as a young child or an elderly parent.”

And of course, it is also possible to have both the flu and Covid-19 at the same time.

Says Malaysian Influenza Working Group Chairman Professor Dr Zamberi Sekawi: “There is a worry that Malaysia might be facing a confluence of Covid-19 and influenza as our flu cases usually start to increase during the end of the year until the first few months of the following year.

“It is bad news to get either disease, but worse if you get both.

"This is why it is very important for everyone, especially those in the high-risk groups, to get vaccinated against the flu now, as that will at least protect them against one of these two infectious diseases.”

The consultant clinical microbiologist notes that flu vaccines have a proven safety record and are well-tolerated among all age groups.

"Like most drugs and other vaccines, the flu vaccine might have some side effects, but they are mild and usually resolve in a couple of days.

"Examples of the common side effects may include low-grade fever, pain swelling or redness at the site of injection, muscle aches and headaches," he explains.

While getting vaccinated against the flu does not mean a 100% guarantee against developing influenza, it does mean that if you do get infected, you will experience far milder symptoms compared to someone unvaccinated.

Also, for the first time this year, the cost of flu vaccines will be eligible for tax relief when taken by one’s self, spouse and/or children.

The Immunise4Life programme was established in 2013 by the Health Ministry, the Malaysian Paediatric Association and the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases & Chemotherapy.

It is currently running the Flu Prevention is an Act of Love campaign, which was launched in 2019, in collaboration with the Malaysian Influenza Working Group, and supported by the Vaccination Is Protection initiative.

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