May 30, 2020
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The difference between seasonal flu and a pandemic respiratory virus

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
March 13, 2020

While there is a difference between seasonal flu and a pandemic respiratory virus, symptoms and response can be the same or similar. Seasonal flu is an annual occurrence. Vaccines are available and many have some immunity. A “new” virus such as COVID-19 may have worldwide implications. Initially there is no immunity and no vaccines, which can lead to high levels of illness, death, social disruption and economic loss.

Most of you are likely aware of the recent outbreak of Coronavirus.  We also wish to remind everyone of the routine precautions that should always be a part of our daily lives and work.

My office is monitoring the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites, and as of today it appears that the virus may be slowing in China, Italy, Iran and Japan. South Korea is still really affected by it and is perhaps the true ‘hot-zone’ in the world right now - with the majority of cases in one region. Thankfully there are major travel restrictions in place there. Also, thankfully, as of this writing, most of the reported cases of Coronavirus in the USA are mild cases. However, the 19th person died in Washington State in our country. These few severe cases are nearly all elderly with previous health conditions.

Looking for a reliable resource for updates?  Bookmark:


Wash hands often with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available). The CDC provides simple and clear guidelines for hand washing/sanitizing at the following links:

Follow respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette. Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. (Do not use your hands!)

Clean and disinfect environmental surfaces, especially the most “high-touch” surfaces such as tables and countertops, doorknobs, handrails and handles.

If you have a fever or upper respiratory infection, stay home from work or school. Phone your medical provider and seek medical attention.


Below is a quick overview of what the CDC considers the most at-risk contagious diseases. I’ve included each disease’s mode of transmission, symptoms exhibited, and how to protect yourselves and your families. As with most viruses, the CDC recommends vaccination. Unfortunately, there is not a vaccination available yet for Coronavirus.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a virus that can be spread by direct contact and via the air from someone already infected. Symptoms of the Coronavirus include high fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache, chills, body aches, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. According to the CDC, the Coronavirus has the ability to spread quickly. If you have had close contact with someone diagnosed, you should know the symptoms may appear in as little as two days after exposure or they can incubate for up to 14 days before appearing. Watch for symptoms. As with pneumonia or influenza, it is important to follow universal precautions when caring for a client with an airborne virus; however, the CDC recommends standard precautions including using personal protection equipment (gloves, masks and a disposable gown) when caring for someone diagnosed with Coronavirus.

Pneumonia is a viral or bacterial lung infection. The mode of transmission is through the air, which means it is spread by coughing or sneezing from an infected person. Symptoms of Pneumonia include fatigue, high temperature, chest pain, phlegmy cough and difficulty breathing. The symptoms can come on suddenly without warning. When caring for a loved one with an airborne virus such as pneumonia, it is essential to use good hand washing skills and a mask. 

Shingles, another virus, is spread by direct contact. A person with active shingles can only spread the virus when the rash is in the blister phase. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear and no longer contagious once the rash has developed crusts. Symptoms of shingles include fever, chills, tingling itchy skin, inflamed red rash and long strips of small fluid-filled blisters. When caring for a loved one with a direct contact illness, such as shingles, it is essential to use standard precautions. You must protect yourself from any opportunity for transmission of blood or bodily fluids. In the case of shingles, adequate protection is using gloves when touching any area with an open rash. 

Influenza is a virulent virus that also spreads through the air, which means it could be transmitted by an infected person coughing or sneezing within 6 feet of you. Symptoms of influenza include high fever, aching muscles, headache, sore throat and dry cough. Again, when caring for a loved one with an airborne virus, such as influenza, it is essential to use good hand-washing skills and a mask.

Gastroenteritis or stomach flu is also a highly contagious, common virus that has several strains such as rotavirus, norovirus and adenovirus. Symptoms include vomiting, watery diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, decreased appetite and dehydration. Stomach flu and all associated strains are spread by direct contact. When caring for yourself or others diagnosed with one of these viruses it is important to protect yourself from all bodily fluids. If you can, use personal protective equipment (PPE). If that is not possible, use gloves and a mask when you have direct contact followed by good hand-washing skills. Keep the contagious person away from others.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterium spread through the air, similar to the virus described above. TB can only be spread by those actively infected with the disease and cannot be spread by touch. Symptoms include cough that last three weeks or longer, pain in chest, and bloody sputum along with weakness, fever and night sweats. TB requires strict airborne precautions and isolation. In 2018, there were 9,025 cases diagnosed in the United States.


Q: What would happen if I tested positive for Coronavirus?

A: If you were diagnosed with Coronavirus, your health care provider would give you instructions to adhere to, along with the following CDC guidelines:

Isolate yourself from others, especially young children, anyone immunocompromised and those over 65. CDC is requesting anyone diagnosed to stay home, except for medical appointments (always call ahead to ensure the health care team is aware of your diagnosis and follow their guidance). 

If you cannot be isolated from others, separate yourself from household members to decrease the chance of spreading the virus. CDCs recommendation is not to discharge patients diagnosed with Coronavirus if there is not a separate bedroom in which they can isolate and recover. 

As discussed earlier, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, you can use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol (95% is better). Using hand sanitizer is a temporary solution until you can wash your hands as described above.  Water alone isn’t enough. Germs stick to the oils on our hands. Soap breaks to bond between germs and our oils on our bodies-that is why we Must wash with soap & water.

Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and immediately discard the tissue in a closed, lined trash can and wash your hands. Do not reuse your tissues and keep the trash can closed. 

Stay away from others, you must remain isolated. If you share your home and you must come in contact with others, wear your face mask at all times. Those within 3-6 feet of you must also have a face mask.

Avoid touching your face. If you do, wash your hands immediately afterwards.

Do not share utensils or other items that potential can transfer the virus. Best practice is to use disposable utensils/plates/bowls/cups. If your Dishwasher has a sanitize setting and you use the dishwasher use that.

Do not return to work, school or other public area until released to do so from your health care provider.

Replace your toothbrush after an illness so you are not reintroducing the germs into your body.

Q: What would happen if I lived with - or cared for - someone diagnosed with the Coronavirus?

A: You should also adhere to these additional guidelines: 

Ensure you understand the healthcare provider’s instruction for care and medication administration and isolation precautions.

Restrict nonessential visitors, only those caring for the diagnosed patient should be allowed.

Restrict use of shared living spaces, if possible, the patient should not have healthy nonessential people in the home. Adhere to strict isolation of the diagnosed patient.

Ensure the shared living spaces have good airflow, weather permitting open a window to increase airflow.  Patient should not leave the isolated room until cleared.

Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after contact with the diagnosed person. If soap and water are not available, you can use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol (95% is better). Using hand sanitizer is a temporary solution until you can wash your hands as described above.

Wear disposable gloves, mask, goggles and long-sleeved gowns whenever touching soiled items or caring for someone infected.

Wash contaminated bedding and clothing frequently with the warmest water recommended on the label, bedding can generally be washed with hot water (wear all previously listed protection during this process).

Before discharge to return home, have someone change furnace and humidifier filters, if they have not been cleared virus free, change again once fully recovered.

Thoroughly clean all “high touch” surfaces daily with a diluted bleach solution or household disinfectant, following label directions and using gloves with the product. High touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones and keyboards. Correct cleaning solution is diluted bleach solution is one tablespoon of bleach added to one quart of water. Household disinfectants and/or the bleach container should state that it is “EPA-approved.”


Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.