Many health officials expect influenza and cold cases to increase this fall and winter as COVID-19 safety protocols are eased.
Experts note many symptoms for the flu and COVID-19 are similar, including fever and body aches. However, breathing difficulty is more common with COVID-19.
Health officials say that if you’re not feeling well, you should isolate, hydrate, and get tested.
Seasonal influenza cases were rare last winter and experts credit COVID-19-related physical and social distancing and mask-wearing for keeping rates low.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, however, the flu is expected to make a comeback. That could make it harder to tell whether that irritating cough, congestion, or fever is only a cold, the flu, or something worse.
“Droplets spread viruses like the flu, COVID-19, or things like RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) in the air,” Dr. Phil Mitchell, an emergency room physician and chief medical officer at DispatchHealth, told Healthline.
“The steps we took to avoid the spread of COVID-19 with masks, social distancing, good hand hygiene is universal prevention for all respiratory viruses.
Because we practiced unprecedented levels of protection, resulting in almost no flu, some health experts speculate we lack some natural immunity, and flu may come back this fall with a vengeance.”
During the 2019-2020 influenza season, an estimated 38 million peopleTrusted Source in the United States became ill with the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Between September 27, 2020, and April 24, 2021 — a span that included the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — only 2,038 flu cases were reported to the CDC.
But some research suggests that diseases such as the flu are poised to return in 2021-2022.
For example, the CDC recently reported that cases of RSV, which declined sharply after April 2020, are climbing back up again in the southern United States, where COVID-19 precautions have largely been lifted.
RSV is the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia among infants and is especially dangerous among young children and older adults.
“After a worldwide drop in influenza cases and the lowest rate on record in the United States during the pandemic, we should all expect to see more flu in the coming fall and winter,” Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.