WHO’s Science In 5 On Covid-19 And Flu
9 June 2021

Flu season is starting in many parts of the world. How can you protect yourself from flu and COVID-19? How would you know if you have flu or COVID-19? What precautions should pregnant women take? WHO’s Dr Sylvie Briand explains in this episode of Science in 5.

Vismita: Hello and welcome to Science in 5, WHO’s conversations in science. I’m Vismita Gupta-Smith and today we are talking about flu and COVID-19. Our expert today is Dr. Sylvie Briand. Sylvie is the Director of WHO’s department of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness. Welcome, Sylvie. 

Sylvie: Hello, Vismita. 

Vismita: Sylvie, flu season is starting in many parts of the world now. So, now people are worried about flu and COVID. How worried should people be? What are their risks? 

Sylvie: I think we shouldn’t be worried. We should rather be prepared because for flu, we do have a vaccine, we do have antivirals and a set of measures that works for flu and can reduce the morbidity, I mean, the disease and the mortality, the deaths linked to influenza. So, what is good news as well is that, first, the measures that have been put in place for COVID, at least the individual measures such as a physical distancing, washing hands and avoid close contact, are working also for influenza viruses. And we have seen in the Southern hemisphere, they had their flu season recently, that those measures worked very well and the transmission of influenza was very low during the Southern hemisphere influence season. So, we cannot be certain that this will be the case for the Northern hemisphere in this fall and winter but we can hope for the best and hope really that influenza will be a mine this year.

Vismita: That’s really good advice. Don’t be worried, be prepared. But first, tell us how would we know if we have flu or COVID-19?

Sylvie: So, what is important for people to know is that those two virus can infect in the body and can produce similar symptoms. What is important is that people, when they see a certain severity sign, that they seek for medical advice. For instance, if they really feel a pain in the chest or difficulties to breathe, then they need to ask for medical advice. And especially people with underlying conditions such as cardiac disease or other respiratory chronic illness, asthma, or people with diabetes. So, those people should be more aware of the sign of severity and so they can ask for advice and help in due time. And one thing is interesting also is we are still learning on COVID-19 disease, but we have seen that certain symptoms are, especially in young adults, such as the change in or loss of smell or taste could be a sign that is more specific to COVID-19. 

Vismita: Sylvie, pregnant women are often advised care regarding flu and they’re also more concerned about catching the flu. What is your advice to them regarding flu and COVID-19? 

Sylvie: So, pregnant women, indeed, because they have a change in their immunity during pregnancy, they are more at risk to develop a severe form of influenza. And so, they need to be particularly cautious during the influenza season not to get infected. So, avoid places that are very crowded, put even extra measures in place such as washing hands very frequently and wearing a mask in places that are crowded, where they cannot physical distance. Basically, it’s the same advice that we provide for COVID-19. So, they just need to know that they might be more at risk for severe influenza disease. And, in some countries they are offered the flu vaccination. So, they can also see if this applies to them and they need to ask their physician or nurses what’s the advice for them during this particular period.

Vismita: Thank you, Sylvie. There you have it, Dr. Sylvie Briand’s advice: Don’t be worried, be prepared to take precautions to protect yourself from flu and COVID-19. That’s all we have in Science in 5 today. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science