Flu season is coming soon, even in the year of COVID-19.
Central District Health Department advises everyone to get a flu shot as soon as possible.
“We never know what to expect for flu season, but what we do know about the upcoming flu season is there will be vaccine available, and we highly recommend everyone get a flu shot,” CDHD Director Teresa Anderson said.
Getting a flu shot will help to combat the burdens caused by the pandemic.
“We don’t know what COVID is going to be doing this fall,” she said. “We don’t want to overwhelm the hospitals with people being admitted with respiratory infections, and we know influenza will sometimes lead to hospitalizations for respiratory issues. COVID does a similar thing, in a different way.”
No evidence exists that a flu shot will lessen the symptoms of COVID-19 or help prevent it, Anderson said.
“The other side of that is, if you get influenza, and you’re sick, your body probably is going to be more susceptible to other viruses,” she said. “People who get an influenza shot are less likely to get some of the other viruses that are circulating. We just don’t know about this particular virus.”
A person who has both influenza and COVID-19 is at greater risk of complications from both, Anderson warned.
“Just because you have one doesn’t mean you can’t get the other,” she said. “We haven’t seen that, because we haven’t lived through a flu season yet.”
Concern is especially great for children and staff returning to school this year.
“If we can give everyone an influenza shot, so they’re protected against influenza as best as we can, then we’re more likely to be able to deal with COVID, and identify COVID, when it’s not complicated by a high level of influenza,” Anderson said.
She is optimistic about the school season.
“We’ve been working very closely with each of the school districts to help them develop plans that best fit the needs of their schools,” she said.
Schools were closed early in the spring when COVID-19 cases first began to increase.
“What we don’t know is when we still have COVID in the community and we bring the kids back to school, what impact will that have?” Anderson said. “We don’t know that yet.”
The Southern Hemisphere is experiencing both COVID-19 and the flu season now, she said.
The same precautions for COVID-19 are being taken there: social distancing, wearing protective masks and staying home when feeling sick.
“What they’re finding in some of those areas where they’re taking those additional precautions is much lower rates of influenza,” Anderson said. “What works to prevent someone from getting one of those can help prevent getting the other.”
The coming flu season might be less severe by taking precautions against the coronavirus.
“We certainly hope that is the case,” Anderson said, “because if it’s not, we’re in for probably a fairly rough flu season this year.”
The flu vaccine is readily available, she said.
Implementing a mass vaccination program is complicated, though, due to the need for social distancing.
“We’re looking at unique ways to deliver those shots to businesses and the public in general,” Anderson said.
Such an effort would help the community with logistics should a COVID-19 vaccine become available.
“We have an additional influenza vaccine supply coming to us sometime a little later, maybe in October through December, from the CDC,” she said, “and that will give us an opportunity to exercise a mass vaccination program, so once we get the COVID vaccine, we’ll already have a practice session in.”
No documented cases of influenza have been reported this year.
Anderson described the 2019 season as “mild.”
“A good percentage of our population got immunized,” she said. “We’re fortunate that in our community people take flu vaccinations seriously.”
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