Key differences between COVID-19 and Influenza

By Alvin Yuan

As we are currently in the second phase of the battle against COVID-19 pandemic and are in the midst of a second lockdown, we must also be wary of the recurring flu season which will undoubtedly affect workers in Malaysia. Moreover, while plans to vaccinate Malaysians are underway, we are not out of the woods yet. With the reintroduction of a second lockdown by the government to control the pandemic, the Malaysian workforce should not lose sight of the impending flu season as they protect themselves against COVID-19.

As we strive to rebuild our nation’s economy even amidst the return of the Movement Control Order (MCO), it is more important than ever for employees to take extra precautions.. With COVID-19 bearing such similar symptoms to the flu, it becomes difficult to tell the difference without first undergoing the necessary tests. Furthermore, even if doctors are able to confirm that an employee is COVID-19-free, catching the flu is another reason to worry as it not only severely affects a person’s overall health but also, productivity.

Difference Between Common Cold and Flu

Most confuse the common cold with the flu. The former is where you usually get a stuffy nose, sneezing uncontrollably, and suffer from a sore throat, while the latter is more severe. While we typically wait out the common cold, medical attention can sometimes become necessary when dealing with the flu. Aside from contracting a fever, cough, and feeling lethargic, the flu can cause people in high-risk groups to develop complications such as heart attacks, pneumonia, and even stroke. In fact, the WHO reports that influenza and pneumonia share the spot as the second leading causes of death in Malaysia.

Both the common cold and flu are categorised under Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI). As demonstrated above, both URTI conditions should not be taken lightly, as they represent the leading causes of many illnesses amongst employees. If left untreated, URTI can lead to various health risks that can prove fatal.

With that in mind, it is also crucial for employees to experience a regular dose of sunlight as Vitamin D is known to play a significant role in thwarting off infections and keeping viruses at bay. With the monsoon season coming up and most of the Malaysian workforce working from home due to the renewed MCO, employees run the risk of not being able to get a regular dose of sunlight. Coupled with the cold weather, this is a perfect storm for a resurgence of flu cases.

Stay on Your Guard, Don’t Underestimate The Flu Even When It Isn’t COVID-19

The biggest mistake is taking the flu lightly. Knowing when to seek medical help, especially with the surge of COVID-19 cases, can be the difference between life and death. This is mainly because viruses thrive in low humidity and lower temperatures, putting individuals in workspaces at higher risks.

As the weather continues to be uncertain, HealthMetrics highly anticipates a surge in flu cases amongst the workforce due to this monsoon weather. The impending lack of social interaction, coupled with overwork and continuous stress due to the impact of the pandemic, will likely result in a weakened immune system. In turn, this leaves the body more susceptible to the flu.

Taking Things In Stride

To lessen the risk of their employees falling ill, employers should ensure regular peer-to-peer check-ins and continue providing tools for success while understanding these trying times.

Healthwise, employers should encourage their teams to stay active in their own homes while maintaining a balanced diet and plenty of rest after working hours. Through the use of digital devices like fitness trackers and smartphone applications, virtual group participation in non-contact sports like running, jogging, yoga, and cycling is now not only easy but increasingly encouraged. Moreover, employers should conduct workshops to promote healthy eating and stress-relieving practices among their employees as they continue to work from home. These best practices will ultimately result in healthier employees with strengthened immune systems for a better chance against the impending flu season.

While physical health is crucial in warding off sicknesses, mental health also plays a prominent role. By helping employees manage stress, productivity can be maintained.

This can be done by giving employees a room to voice out any concerns or problems, and by taking a people-first approach. Now more than ever, online platforms for easy communications must be readily available for all employees. More than that, it is easier to forget to take breaks when working from home. At the workplace, a break often comes in the form of colleagues stopping by your desk for a chat or a trip to the pantry or a nearby cafe. When working from home, it often becomes necessary to set break reminders, especially if you live alone, because the distractions employees are used to while at work no longer apply. Therefore, employers should encourage buddy systems among employees to ensure that each team member can maintain a healthy balance between work and relaxation.

The Importance of Working Together To Ensure A Brighter 2021

2020 has taught us that working together is essential to ensure that the Malaysian workforce continues to be prepared in the face of a crisis. The adage of prevention is better than cure rings very true, but knowing the enemy is half the battle won.

The current ‘twindemic’ that is hitting Malaysia at full force should put employers on high alert as employees are currently facing extended periods of isolation within the confines of their homes or worse, rooms. With the nation readying itself to face another extended period of lockdown measures, keeping a healthy and productive workforce may just prove to be the final push to a better 2021.

Alvin Yuan is the Chief Executive Officer of HealthMetrics, a holistic digital solutions provider which aims to assist Human Resources (HR) teams in automating, simplifying and managing healthcare benefits within organisations.


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