The convergence of the flu and COVID-19
This fall, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever, according to health experts. The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming influenza (flu) season could potentially overburden the United States health system.
The convergence of the two viruses could cause great concerns, according to Gabriel Neal, MD, one of the leaders in testing a vaccine to help mitigate COVID-19 and clinical associate professor in the department of primary care at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine.
There are already high numbers of hospitalizations due to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The flu season could potentially increase the number of hospitalizations and lead to another shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“The flu still kills tens of thousands of people in the United States each year, and even if it doesn’t kill you, it is important that you not transmit it to someone else who is more vulnerable,” Neal said. “Really, there are three reasons people get a flu shot: because you care about your own health, or other people’s health, or like most of us, you care about both.”
Additionally, health care officials warn that catching both the coronavirus and the flu could negatively impact your health and ability to recover from both. Both can result in serious illness, which includes illness that leads to hospitalization or death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“One concern that we have is that, since COVID is primarily a respiratory illness, a flu-COVID combination could potentially be more deadly,” Neal said. “We also think it’s possible that if you’ve had COVID recently, and then you get the flu, that could make you sicker than you would have been otherwise.”
According to Neal, getting a flu shot can reduce an individual’s chance of serious illness and death from the flu, and although there is no current vaccine that treats COVID-19, individuals should continue to take preventive measures.
Social distancing, frequently washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, wearing a mask in public settings and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily are some of the most important ways to protect yourself against the disease.
The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccination in September or October. There is no need to get a flu vaccine early this year, as getting the shot in July or August may leave you unprotected during the last part of the flu season.
Although there are concerns that the combination of the flu and coronavirus could overburden the health care system, many believe if everyone follows mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines, the flu season will not be as bad this year.
“If we’re all doing what we need to do for COVID, we will hope to see fewer cases of the flu,” Neal said. “Follow the COVID-19 precautions, get a flu shot, and if you start to feel sick, call your doctor.”