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Healthwise Maui

Q: How do I know if I have the flu or COVID?

Chrissy Miller, employee health manager, Maui Health System: Because COVID-19 has many of the same symptoms as influenza, it can be hard to tell them apart. That’s one reason we recommend that everybody get a flu shot this year — it can help you rule out the flu if you do get sick.

Typical flu symptoms include fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and cough. You usually feel much sicker with the flu than you do with the common cold.

COVID-19 has some similar symptoms, including high fever, chills, dry cough, and fatigue. Less common symptoms can include shortness of breath, sore throat, stuffy nose, vomiting and diarrhea.

But COVID-19 also has some early symptoms to look out for. One of the most distinctive symptoms is the loss of smell or taste, which one study estimated is seen in about 87 percent of COVID-19 cases. Some people develop skin rashes, or “COVID toes” — redness or blisters on their hands or feet.

The bottom line is, it can be hard to tell the difference between COVID and the flu. So, if you do start having symptoms, call your health care provider right away, so you can be tested.

Q: I heard the flu shot makes you more susceptible to getting COVID-19. Is that true?

Chrissy Miller, employee health manager, Maui Health System: No. There is no evidence that the flu vaccine weakens your immune system and increases your risk of getting sick from coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19. A recent study of 13,000 people who tested positive for COVID-19 this spring found no difference between people who had a flu shot and those who did not. And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now issued special guidance advising people that the flu shot doesn’t increase your risk of COVID-19.

Doctors and health officials are strongly recommending that everyone get a flu shot this year to help prevent a double pandemic of COVID-19 and influenza. Getting a flu shot can help you rule out the flu and identify your illness as COVID-19 if you do get sick. It can also help you avoid having to go to the doctor’s office or hospital while the pandemic is still active. Also, don’t forget that influenza can be a severe illness on its own, so it’s always a good idea to protect yourself.

The bottom line is, while there’s not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, there is one for influenza, and we recommend that you get it.

Q: Is the ICU at full capacity? Does the hospital have enough ventilators?

Dr. Michael Shea, intensivist and chief medical director, Maui Health: The census of the ICU fluctuates from day to day, as it does in the rest of the hospital. Maui Memorial has 31 ICU beds, divided between two units. Since COVID-19, we have designated one of the ICU units as a “warm unit” which is an isolation unit for any positive or suspected COVID-19 cases. That may cause confusion as different agencies report on our “ICU capacity” may only consider one of the two units we have available for ICU level care.

When the “non-COVID” ICU has filled up, it is usually because a patient who no longer needs critical care is waiting to be moved to another part of the hospital. When this happens, staff monitor the situation and develop a plan for which patients to move if another critical patient arrives.

Maui Memorial has 42 standard ventilators that are mainly used in the critical care units. The hospital also has other devices that can be used as ventilators in an emergency, including anesthesia machines and bridge ventilators. Currently, we have at least 60 total devices for respiratory support and the average number of ventilators in use each day is five.

* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealth.org/healthwise.

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