May 5, 2021 by Peter B. Laird
Halloween, You, COVID-19 and the Flu
On a mid-October South Florida day, the sight of buzzards circling lazily high in the sky is a sure sign that cooler air is on its way and Halloween – and, yes, the holidays! – are just around the corner. It’s also the start of flu season, and doctors are worried that this year could be especially challenging because of the coronavirus pandemic. More people going to parties. More families gathering for the holidays. More ways to spread COVID-19 and the flu.
“We’re already seeing flu cases on the rise in our practice,” says Douglas J. Inciarte, M.D., FAAFP, a family medicine physician and program director of the West Kendall Baptist Hospital-FIU Family Medicine Residency Program. “And now, with kids back in school and more people going to bars and restaurants again, we may anticipate an increase in infections from both flu and COVID-19. If we don’t maintain current CDC guidelines on safety precautions, our community might be surprised to see a surge around Thanksgiving.”
First up on the calendar is Halloween, however, and that will look a little different this year, Dr. Inciarte expects. He advises using common sense and following the same CDC precautions as if you were going to a restaurant, a mall, a theme park or anywhere with a lot of people in close proximity. “Maintain social distancing. Wear a mask – make it part of the costume. And use hand sanitizer after receiving candy.”
Rather than having young trick-or-treaters knock on your door, you may want to set up tables outside with individual bags of candy and a bottle of hand sanitizer. “Get creative and have some fun with it,” Dr. Inciarte says. “Everyone understands we have to do things a little differently this year.”
Is it COVID-19 or the Flu? Because symptoms of the flu are largely similar to those of COVID-19, getting an accurate diagnosis is especially important, according to Dr. Inciarte.
“Fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, body aches, malaise and fatigue – all of these are symptoms of both the flu and COVID-19,” Dr. Inciarte says. “When a patient presents with any of these symptoms, we have to assume it could be COVID-19 and test for both. I expect we’ll be doing a lot of testing this fall and winter.”
If a patient with any of these symptoms is also experiencing loss of sense of smell and taste, headaches or gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, that may well indicate a COVID-19 infection, Dr. Inciarte says.
All three of the most common COVID-19 tests – Rapid Antigen, PCR and Antibody – are available at Baptist Health Urgent Care and Urgent Care Express locations, according to Luis Bellmas, vice president of Baptist Outpatient Services. “Visit the location nearest to you, and our providers will conduct a quick medical exam to determine the best testing option for you.”
“Free flu shots are also available at all of these locations,” Mr. Bellmas adds. “We encourage everyone in South Florida to get theirs as soon as possible.”