What to Watch for as Flu Season Combines with COVID-19

What does COVID-19 have in common with influenza? The foundation for keeping both from overwhelming your workplace starts with education, regular disinfection, and keeping a close eye on your employees so you can spot any outbreaks quickly.


That was the message to Iowa manufacturers in November when Emily Law, infection prevention coordinator at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, spoke to participants in the weekly CIRAS Roundtable for Iowa manufacturers.

CIRAS has been holding the weekly online meetings for months to give Iowa companies  a forum for COVID-19 education, discussion, and a way to share their concerns.

Law noted that both COVID-19 and the flu can cause pneumonia. Influenza also can prompt problems for people with heart ailments, asthma, and diabetes, while COVID-19 has been known to cause blood clots, and cardiac muscle damage. COVID-19 also causes a loss of taste and smell – something Law described as “really rare” in cold and flu case.

“That’s kind of a bizarre symptom, and I really don’t know why that happens,” she said during the roundtable. “I don’t think we’ve figured that out yet. But that one is really unique to COVID.”

The coronavirus had killed 245,000 people in the United States as of November 17, when Law’s webinar was recorded. That’s roughly 11 times those killed by the flu in 2018-2019.

Most COVID-19 patients in Iowa are ending up in their doctor’s office after experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, she said.

Law noted that it is possible to get both COVID-19 and the flu, either at the same time or in succession. “They are completely different viruses, and both could make you more susceptible to the other,” she said.

Both viruses also are vulnerable to the same preventative measures, she said: Masking, social distancing, and hand washing should be equally effective against COVID-19 and the flu.

For more information, watch Emily Law’s appearance on the CIRAS Weekly COVID-19 Roundtable.