This year we will experience the winter cold and flu season at the same time as ongoing COVID-19 infections. This poses unique challenges to businesses managing the risk of widespread infection in their workplace. Each of these illnesses will impact workflow and staff health in different ways, so it is important to have the tools to tell the difference between these infections.
Why the 2022 flu season is different from previous years
For the past two years, New Zealand has experienced low rates of influenza infections and reduced winter colds due to border closures and public health measures. This has resulted in an immunity gap due to reduced exposure to the viruses. With the border reopening and restrictions easing, a wide range of virus strains will be reintroduced to our communities.
This winter we will have high exposure to influenza, COVID-19, and a range of viruses that cause the common cold (including over 100 strains of Rhinovirus). As a result, we will see a greater number of people becoming unwell. We will also have the added risk of individuals experiencing co-infection of influenza and COVID-19, which often results in higher rates of severe illness and hospitalisation.
Health recommendations for New Zealand businesses
While remnants of the ‘soldier on’ mentality remain in New Zealand society, the message since the start of the pandemic has been clear: if you are unwell, stay home.
Taking the time to rest and recover reduces long-term illness and continued absenteeism. The recommended time off varies between the different respiratory illnesses, but as a general rule, employees should stay home until 24 hours after symptoms resolve.
The public health and increased hygiene measures that have become commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be important in reducing the spread of all respiratory illnesses.
In the case of COVID-19, current public health measures require that positive cases and their households must isolate for 7 days following a positive test. It is highly recommended that individuals with cold-like symptoms perform a rapid antigen test (RAT) to keep the vulnerable members of our workplaces and communities safe.
Regular RAT surveillance testing in your workplace can help to catch the infection early and prevent widespread illness among your team – particularly in poorly ventilated indoor spaces such as offices.
Rapid antigen testing can also help identify those who need to isolate for the full 7 days, and those with other respiratory infections that can return to work once symptoms have resolved. It is especially important this year to know whether the illness is COVID-19 or a cold or flu, as it also affects whether people in your household need to isolate for 7 days as well.
Many companies have already implemented a COVID-19 management plan and testing policy. You can learn more about implementing surveillance testing in your workplace in our article: Why use Rapid Antigen Testing in your workplace. MedPro also has a steady supply of RAT test kits and KN95 masks available for purchase
Workplace influenza vaccinations
Vaccination continues to be the most effective method of preventing flu infection and severe illness, and it is the best way to keep your employees safe in the workplace. This is particularly important in light of this year’s immunity gap. Vaccination will provide the much-needed vaccine-acquired immunity to bolster our immune system after the absence of the flu virus in 2020 and 2021.
Most people can receive the influenza vaccination, provided they are not currently unwell and haven’t had previous allergic reactions to vaccines. If you have COVID-19 you can receive the vaccination as soon as your symptoms resolve, and it can be given at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccination.
MedPro is proud to be New Zealand’s leading provider of workplace vaccinations, and we provide vaccination solutions for businesses of all sizes and working arrangements. Find out more and Contact us today to discuss your flu vaccination needs.
The difference between influenza, COVID-19, and the common cold
As influenza, COVID-19, and the common cold are respiratory illnesses and share many of the same symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart. This is where a RAT test can be a very useful tool.
The main features to consider are symptom onset and intensity, and the duration of illness.
The common cold will generally cause mild symptoms which develop slowly over several days but are usually short-lived. Symptoms often resolve within 1-3 days, but lingering tiredness can continue for up to 2 weeks while your body recovers.
Influenza is not just a ‘bad cold’. Although some of the symptoms are the same, influenza is usually much more severe. There is generally a sudden onset of symptoms over 24 hours and there can be much more serious consequences, such as pneumonia, hospitalisation, and death. To protect others, it is recommended that people with the flu stay home for a minimum of 4-5 days after the onset of symptoms as this is the peak of infectious activity. As the flu symptoms appear suddenly and are more severe it is important that you rest. Most people fully recover within 7-10 days, but extreme fatigue can continue for 2-3 weeks.
The current predominant strain of COVID-19 is Omicron. When infected with Omicron, most people who are fully vaccinated (double/triple vaccinated, and have received their booster) experience only mild to moderate symptoms. However, this must not be mistaken for a mild illness. COVID-19 exhibits similar rates of serious infection and hospitalisation as influenza. It is important to remember that COVID-19 has a higher rate of serious illness among young, healthy individuals when compared to influenza.
There is also concern about the long tail of COVID symptoms which can continue for weeks, or even months after the infection has resolved. Rapid antigen testing remains the most effective way to identify a COVID-19 infection and anyone with symptoms should be encouraged to complete a test. Following confirmation of COVID-19 infection, you and your household must isolate for 7 days.
MedPro is proud to be New Zealand’s leading provider of workplace vaccinations, contact us today to discuss your flu vaccination requirements
A comparative symptom list is included below.