Flu and COVID-19: What You Need to Know
Cynthia Snider, MD, MPH, shares important information about this year’s flu season and COVID-19, with facts about flu shots and prevention strategies in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.
How bad is the flu season expected to be this year in combination with COVID-19?
“That is the million-dollar question. There is a lot of speculation. Our worst case is that it would definitely overwhelm our health care systems. However, based on countries in the southern hemisphere who are now in their flu season, the rates are lower, probably due to two components: I think there's still very good influenza vaccine uptake, as well as the fact that people are still being very adherent to social distancing and wearing a mask.
“We are hoping for those two factors to still be really embraced in our state, in our county, making sure people get the flu vaccine, because we really don't want this twin ‘pandemic,’ right? We don't want coronavirus plus having influenza in our community, and anything we can do to prevent it is really what's important.”
Is it important to get a flu shot this year?
“We know that in seasons past, we have the flu uptake – how many people usually get the flu vaccine – is roughly 50%. But right now, the CDC goal is really to push it beyond 60% in our community. We know that the flu vaccine for this year has been reformulated, taking into consideration the strains that circulated last year, and there's a good sense that [those strains are] still a big part of what's going to cause the flu season this year.
“But the key thing is we really want to advocate for everybody, anybody over the age of 6 months should be getting the flu vaccine. And those who are older than 65 should aim for the high-dose vaccine.”
When should I get a flu shot this year?
“I think a good time to get your vaccine is now. Really the key point is to try to get it in before the end of October. It's still hard to tell when our peaks of the flu will be in our community. Usually we see them in January, sometimes it's a little bit or much later than that. I think just making sure to get your vaccines in before the end of October. And I'm a fan of kind of right now – if you have the time to put it into your schedule, it's better to do it now before you forget about it later on.”
Will we need more than one flu shot this year?
“No. The recommendation right now is just getting caught up on your vaccines. So, we know that being in a pandemic over the last 6 months, a lot of folks have postponed their general, regular visits. Probably a lot of kids are maybe a little bit delayed in their vaccine schedules. Right now is the perfect time to get caught up.”
“The key thing is really, if you have that opportunity to get your flu vaccine now, or you'll definitely try to get in before the end of October, that is probably the prime time to get vaccinated. And then, in addition, making sure to be very vigilant about wearing a mask in public, hand hygiene - and all of this is important to curtail any viral transmission of other respiratory viruses.”
What can we do to help prevent the flu and COVID-19?
“What we can do for prevention is definitely really continuing to adhere to wearing a mask, right? You want to wear the ones that are really well-fitting across the nose, and then also hand hygiene and social distancing. Those three W's are so key for preventing respiratory illnesses.
“… I think a lot of people may have a little bit of pandemic fatigue, but this is still an important time to really embrace these public health interventions, because our rates in our community are still high.”
What symptoms are similar between COVID-19 and the flu, and what symptoms are different?
“When we think of flu-like illness, a lot of people really remember just feeling achy, both in your bones and your muscles, and having fever. Some people may have a sore throat, but it's really that temperature and body aches and occasional cough that really gets you into what feels like flu.
“With coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that disease process also has those symptoms. But a lot of people also feel like they have a sore throat at first. Sometimes people feel like they just have allergies, and then it starts progressing to something worse.”
“There is a bit of overlap that happens. The key thing is that if you feel, in terms of somebody who has allergies, it just feels a little bit different, it's definitely worth calling your primary care doctor to be evaluated or swinging by some of the community testing sites that are available to get tested for COVID-19.”