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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

'More Unknowns Than Knowns': Charlotte Braces For Flu Season In A Pandemic

A scientist unpacks influenza samples sent to the CDC for testing in 2017.
Emily Cramer
A scientist unpacks influenza samples sent to the CDC for testing in 2017.



Charlotte-area doctors are gearing up for flu season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and there are "still more unknowns than knowns" about this year's flu season, Dr. Katie Passaretti, the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Atrium Health, told reporters Wednesday.


Passaretti said the season could be lighter than a typical year because more people staying at home due to the pandemic could mean fewer chances to spread germs.

But the two illnesses can have identical respiratory symptoms. Though they're caused by different viruses, COVID-19 and the flu can both lead to a fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and runny or stuffy nose or sore throat among other symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“It’s very challenging to tell the difference. And in most cases you probably can’t clearly do it with a list of symptoms,” Passaretti said.


She said health care providers are “probably going to be testing more people” for the flu than in a typical season to determine if and how they should treat each patient.


Passaretti said a person can have the flu and the coronavirus at the same time but that it’s not yet clear how one illness could affect the other.


Doctors and scientists had hoped to use the Southern Hemisphere’s winter flu season to study how the coronavirus would interact with the flu and other seasonal respiratory viruses. But preventative measures like travel restrictions, social distancing and mask wearing “all but stopped” flu from spreading in places like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and parts of South America, Science Magazine reported.


According to the CDC, everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine every season “with rare exceptions.” Passaretti recommended people get a flu shot near the end of September or in early October to be protected for the duration of flu season.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.