Flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic are about to collide. And while it is difficult to predict how bad this year’s flu season will be, it is important to be prepared—especially if 2020 continues on the same course.

Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, flu season is something to take seriously. Influenza is a life-threatening respiratory virus that can crowd emergency rooms and intensive care units.

According to the CDC, the 2019-2020 flu season in the US was moderate with preliminary estimates indicating that there were about 400,000 hospitalizations and about 22,000 fatalities. While these numbers are less than other recent seasons, it was still a record-tying season for the number of children who died from the flu.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing and the 2020-2021 flu season gearing up, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect the health of you and your family. The flu can leave people vulnerable to harsher attacks of COVID-19 and coming down with both viruses at once could be disastrous.

“We are facing an even bigger challenge this year with two different viruses – seasonal influenza, which is highly contagious, and the coronavirus pandemic,” said states Clois Slaughter, M.D., Family Physician. “That’s why it is even more important for you and your family to get a flu shot.”

Flu shots—a top priority to protect your health

According to a 2018 study, adults who received a flu vaccine were 82% less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit with the flu. But unfortunately in the 2018-2019 flu season only about 45.3 percent of adults over the age of 18 in the United States received their flu vaccine.

For children, the flu vaccine can be life-saving. Children under five and especially under two are at an increased risk for complications. And about 80 percent of children who die from the flu are not vaccinated.

“There are a lot myths and anti-vaccine rhetoric that can prevent people from getting the flu shot,” said Dr. Slaughter. “I encourage people to talk to their doctor and ask questions about things they may have heard. The truth is the flu shot is still your best defense against this potentially deadly disease.”

The vaccine is recommended for most people, but is especially important for:

  • Children 6 months and older
  • People in high-risk groups
    • Pregnant women
    • Adults 65 and older
    • People with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and asthma

You should try to get the flu vaccine prior to the end of October, but even in the middle of flu season it still isn’t too late.

“It takes about two weeks for the body to develop antibodies. That’s why it’s important to get the shot before the season really kicks into full gear,” said Dr. Slaughter.

While no vaccine is perfect, getting the flu vaccine does have benefits.

  • It doesn’t just protect you, it also helps protect your family and the community.
  • If you still wind up getting the flu, the vaccine can reduce the severity and help prevent people of all ages from developing serious complications that require hospitalization.
  • It can help to reduce the number of flu cases keeping people out of the hospital, urgent care and doctor’s office leaving more medical resources to concentrate on COVID cases, managing chronic disease and emergencies.

Continue to take preventative measures

While flu and COVID-19 are different viruses, they transmit in similar ways – through exhaled breath, coughing and sneezing. The protocols in place for coronavirus like masks, social distancing, sanitizing high-touch surfaces and proper handwashing can all help prevent the spread of the flu. Also remember to cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when you are not feeling well and stay home until you are fever free for at least 24 hours.

It can also be beneficial to concentrate on boosting your immune system by:

  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fats
  • Getting plenty of sleep – Sleep deprivation can compromise a healthy immune system
  • Staying hydrated
  • Exercising

If the unfortunate does occur… symptoms of a cold, the flu and COVID-19

If you or a loved one have the unfortunate experience of getting sick this season it may be difficult to figure out which virus you have since many of the symptoms are similar. The chart below can be used as a guide, but if you have any questions, call your primary care doctor. He or she can help you get screened and guide you to the best healthcare location if needed.

Rapides Regional Medical Center offers a free health advice and physician referral service. You can speak with a registered nurse 24/7 about your symptoms and, if needed, he or she can refer you to the best site of care for your symptoms.

Symptoms Symptoms typically appear 5 days after being infected, but may appear 2-14 days after infection Symptoms typically appear anywhere from 1-4 days after infection Symptoms of a cold usually peak within 2-3 days
Sore throat Sometimes Sometimes Common
Stuffy, Runny nose Rare Sometimes Common
Cough Yes, typically dry Yes Mild to moderate
Muscle aches Yes Yes, often Slight
Headache Sometimes Yes Rare
Fever Yes Yes, often high Rare
Fatigue, weakness Yes Yes Mild
Sneezing No Sometimes Common
Shortness of breath Yes Yes No
Loss of taste or smell Yes Rare Sometimes (due to nasal congestion)
Diarrhea, Vomiting Sometimes Uncommon No

If you experience any of the following symptoms, do not delay care. Seek emergency medical attention if you have:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake up or stay awake
  • Blueish lips or face

Seek emergency care immediately if your child:

  • Has a blue or purplish skin color
  • Is so irritable they don’t want to be held
  • Cries without tears (in infants)
  • Has a fever with a rash
  • Has trouble waking up
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has stomach or chest pain or pressure
  • The flu can also make chronic health conditions worse—for instance, a child who has asthma may experience attacks

*This is not a comprehensive list of all emergency symptoms. Please call your physician if any symptoms are concerning to you.

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