A runny nose, a fever and a sore throat. You’d rather not have it. But if you do find yourself in that situation, is it corona or flu? And how do you deal with it?

Now that both viruses are running straight through each other, doctor of infectious disease control Fred Slijkerman, the Netherlands  calls on everyone to be extra vigilant. Because covid-19 is still “circulating at high levels” and influenza is currently striking hard.

“The most important message I want to give people is: be careful with others. Whatever you are suffering from, limit your social contacts in case of complaints. After all, someone who is healthy and under sixty is quite capable of dealing with a serious bout of flu. It’s all about vulnerable groups, elderly people, people with chronic illnesses, but also young children, who we need to protect after two years without influenza. So that they don’t develop any complications. High fever, headaches and muscle aches, flu can sometimes make people really miserable.”


It’s pretty confusing. The flu normally rears its head in the winter. That there is now a flu wave in the budding spring is special. And that the symptoms can be the same as corona creates doubts.

“Normally the flu season starts in late December, early January. That the cycle has shifted is because corona measures have recently been loosened and people are meeting each other more, getting closer to each other,” Slijkerman explains.

Never had flu before

“Because of little movement, mouth masks and hygiene measures, many viruses have been able to spread less for a long time. They now have the chance to pop up, influenza first and foremost. Also because no natural defenses have been built up in the past two years. There are young children who have never had the flu.”

Doktor Slijkerman  advises anyone with cold or respiratory symptoms to do a coronaself test at home anyway. “If it’s negative, but the symptoms persist, repeat such a test or go to a test clinic. If the result is still positive, then you have to spend at least five days in isolation (in a separate room, ed.), until you are 24 hours symptom free. If the test is negative again or even several times, you can conclude that it must be a virus other than covid-19.”

Sick at home

Even so, Slijkerman urges people in that situation to stay home and see others as little as possible. “Postpone the birthday party, visits to the café or the cinema. Contact your employer and explain the situation. If he or she is wise, he or she will let you work from home if the opportunity exists or call in sick,” he says.

“Being sick at home is never convenient, but no one is waiting for a virus to spread and infect more people in your immediate or workplace environment. The number of sick people in schools, health care facilities and companies is still high because of covid-19. If influenza comes on top of that, it can cause disruption. It could also endanger the continuity of services provided by the police, fire department and ambulance crews. Then we are even further from home. What is the best thing to do? It is better to crawl under the covers, take a good long rest and not put others in an awkward position. You can recover from influenza in seven days. A week out of action, what’s that? So be sensible.”

Hay fever

The GGD doctor doesn’t want to gloat, just tries to paint a realistic picture. “The upside is that we’re heading into nice weather. When temperatures rise, people go outside more and the risks of virus transmission decrease. We are getting out of the winter, which is beneficial. Although others will be more affected by hay fever.”

Whether corona will remain and the flu will reappear in high numbers at the end of this year is impossible to predict. “Viruses are elusive in that respect. That’s why everyone has to take their own responsibility towards others. If you don’t feel well, limit your contacts. That’s the best remedy.”