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Managing the flu season during the COVID-19 pandemic

As a trusted partner and leader in infectious disease, Roche is committed to providing innovative diagnostic tests for the management of respiratory viral infections. We are vigilant in offering reliable diagnostic solutions that differentiate between the SARS-CoV-2 and influenza A/B viruses so that healthcare providers can make informed treatment decisions and improve patient outcomes.

 

Characteristics of influenza and COVID-19

 

Influenza and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses that are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 results from the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, while the flu is caused by influenza viruses.1 Both viruses spread between people in close contact through droplets that come from coughing, sneezing and talking. Each can be transmitted between individuals even before symptoms are noticeable. Patients can experience a range of symptoms -- from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. 

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Symptoms from the flu and COVID-19 can overlap and may be difficult to discern. Symptoms for both include:1
 
  • Fever/chill
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the main difference between the diseases is that COVID-19 seems to be more contagious than the flu in certain individuals at high-risk and can spread more quickly, especially during superspreading events.1 Additionally, people with COVID-19 may be more contagious for a longer time versus the flu.

For the flu, a person can develop symptoms one to four days after infection. For COVID-19, an individual can develop symptoms, on average, five days after infection but can also show signs as early as two days or as late as 14 days after infection. A more serious characteristic of COVID-19 is that an individual can be completely asymptomatic but still spread the virus.

Additionally, individuals with other underlying medical issues, including diabetes and heart disease, are at higher risk for developing more severe illness from the COVID-19 virus.2

 

Management and treatment for flu and COVID-19

Flu

 

Influenza is a serious health concern and places a significant burden on healthcare systems worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated 1 billion cases, 3-5 million severe cases, and 290,000 to 650,000 influenza-related respiratory deaths worldwide each year.3

The CDC is urging individuals to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible to reduce the risk of becoming sick.1 Vaccination, treatment with antiviral drugs for the flu and quarantining when necessary are important measures that can help save lives as well as valuable medical resources that healthcare workers need for more serious complications associated with COVID-19 patients.

While vaccinations play a critical role in battling influenza, they are not always employed or may have limited effectiveness. This leaves gaps in coverage and millions of people at risk, increasing the need for other interventions like therapeutics.4,5

Flu-Sars
COVID-19

COVID-19

 

As of December 3, 2020, there have been 65 million positive COVID-19 cases in the world and over 1.5 million deaths.6 Healthcare agencies and public health officials have urged communities to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 through various measures that include: 

  • Wearing a mask

  • Keeping a distance of at least 6 feet 

  • Washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer

These same measures can also help reduce the spread of influenza. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have put out guidelines for the treatment of COVID-19.7 Several therapeutic agents and prevention strategies, including dexamethasone, remdesivir and vaccines, have been evaluated to battle the disease.8,9

Differentiating between influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2

 

To help reduce the burden of COVID-19 and influenza on the economy and society, Roche has developed diagnostic tests to detect both the SARS-CoV-2 and influenza A/B viruses from a single sample. Roche’s technology includes high-throughput PCR, molecular point-of-care PCR and rapid antigen tests.

Since both COVID-19 and influenza symptoms are similar, it is important to reliably detect and differentiate between the two diseases to prevent transmission and provide patients with suitable care. Roche has a fully-automated high-throughput PCR test that uses a multiplex reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay to determine if a patient is infected by SARS-CoV-2 and/or influenza A/B virus. Healthcare professionals can utilize this affordable product, which uses nasal or nasopharyngeal swab samples, for an accurate diagnosis.

Roche’s point-of-care molecular nucleic acid test can provide fast and accurate test results differentiating SARS-CoV-2, influenza A and influenza B in 20 minutes from a single nasal sample. The multiplex real-time PCR test is a reliable method when results are needed quickly or in emergency care situations.