By Sierra Gross Stallman, MD – Medical Director for Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s Internal Medicine practice
With our sunny 90 degree days and all the attention currently on COVID-19, it seems impossible to fathom flu season is coming near. Uncertainty about the future seems to be the one sure thing in the coronavirus pandemic. However, a few things are clear: the virus is circulating through the population and flu season is only a few months away. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 62,000 people died and up to 740,000 people were hospitalized due to flu complications between October 2019 – April 2020. Hence, it is crucial we continue to be aware of, attempt to prevent and treat the flu, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc in our world.
Flu and COVID-19 can share many, though not all, symptoms including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. While as a community, we are working on limiting the spread of COVID-19 through multiple methods including proper hand hygiene, getting vaccinated is already an established prevention for flu. It is the best option to prevent, control, and decrease the socioeconomic burden of influenza. The influenza vaccine is more important now than ever as the Novel Coronavirus continues to spread.
Even though the flu shot is not perfect at preventing the flu, it can lower your risk of developing serious complications. Flu vaccinations have been shown to reduce deaths, ICU admissions, and overall duration of hospitalization. Within a population, the more people that receive the vaccine, the better it becomes at preventing the flu and its complications. Therefore, everyone who is able to get the flu vaccine, generally those six months or older, should get vaccinated, not only for your own health, but also for those around you. It is especially important for those at high risk of flu complications to get vaccinated, which includes: children 6 months to four years old, pregnant women, people older than 50, immunosuppressed individuals, and those with certain chronic diseases. Keep in mind that many people who are at high risk for developing a serious case of the flu are considered high risk for severe complications of COVID-19. In addition, health officials have confirmed that coinfection of flu and COVID-19 is possible and was seen at the end of the last flu season.
To protect our community through this coming flu season, it is important to consider timing of vaccination. Once people are vaccinated it takes about 14 days for the immune system to generate a protective response. The standard flu shot cannot give you the flu as it does not contain live virus, though it is possible to catch the flu before your vaccine takes effect. Studies have detected a steady decline in vaccine protection the months following administration. By six months after vaccination, flu vaccine effectiveness can be reduced by more than half. Therefore, individuals should try to get the vaccine just before flu activity starts, so that they are optimally protected for the duration of the season. Flu activity begins to increase in October and November, peaks between December and February and lasts until April and May. CDC guidelines are currently recommending people get vaccinated in September or October. This is based on data from previous flu seasons, suggesting tens of thousands of influenza cases and hundreds of deaths can likely be avoided if older adults wait until October to get their immunizations. While COVID-19 has been compared to the flu in regards to symptoms, they are not the same, and the flu vaccine cannot prevent COVID-19. With the Novel Coronavirus in our community and flu season coming upon us, getting the flu vaccine is your best first-line defense against getting sick. Please help us protect you, your loved ones, and those around you. Get vaccinated!