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A Matter of Health: Flu vs. COVID testing

HealthFair 11 and UCare are hosting a drive-thru Flu Fighter Clinic Sept. 25-27 at the state fairgrounds.

Annual flu shots are taking on new significance this year during the coronavirus pandemic, with health officials hoping to prevent a "double disaster" outbreak of both flu and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 and the flu have many signs and symptoms in common: fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches," said UCare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Julia Joseph-Di Caprio. "Because COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms, it can be hard to diagnose which condition you have based on your symptoms alone."

Dr. Joseph-Di Caprio says it is possible for someone to have both illnesses at the same time. 

If you are feeling sick, your doctor will likely test for both.

Flu tests often involve swabs to detect nasal cultures. These tests can be done in a doctor's office, with results available as quickly as 10 to 20 minutes, though additional tests may be needed in the following days.

COVID-19 tests with a nasal swab take about three to four days for results. New COVID tests are emerging as well, like mucus testing that provides results within minutes, as well as saliva testing and at-home collection tests.

Scientists are also developing tests that can detect both flu and COVID-19.

Doctors can discuss a patient symptoms in a telehealth visit, but because of the similarity in the symptoms, testing is needed for an accurate diagnosis.  

While the world awaits a COVID vaccine, doctors say everyone can at least protect themselves from influenza with a flu shot, which can help protect the people you come in contact with, and help to conserve COVID-19 testing supplies.

HealthFair 11 and UCare are making it easy and safe for the public to get their influenza vaccinations with a three-day drive-thru Flu Fighters Clinic from Sept. 25-27, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. each day, at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

RELATED: Health Fair 11 plans public flu shot clinics

Credit: KARE

"You can avoid getting sick from flu altogether by all the ways you protect yourself from COVID-19: masks, social distancing, hand washing. So keep on practicing safe behaviors," Dr. Joseph-Di Caprio said.

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