Now is the Time to Defend Against Influenza

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I am joining with health experts throughout our country to stress the importance of getting a flu vaccination and turning up the volume, warning: “No year is a good year to get the flu, but this year—with COVID-19—it’s especially bad.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) preliminary data for the past (2019-2020) flu season, which ended in May, found that the flu was responsible for at least 18 million visits to health providers, 410,000 hospitalizations, and tragically, 64,000 deaths. 

During the fall and winter months, emergency rooms and urgent care clinics are often flooded with flu patients. Given that our healthcare systems are currently being challenged from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to do our part to help reduce healthcare facility visits and admissions, easing the load. We need to allay the possibility of a “twindemic,” the overlap of flu season and an expected surge in COVID-19 cases this fall and winter.

DR. NINA’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: About the Seasonal Flu/Influenza and COVID-19

Influenza

A highly contagious, serious, and potentially deadly illness caused by influenza viruses, it attacks the respiratory system, causing a runny nose, cough, and sore throat. It can additionally wreak havoc over the entire body, causing headaches, muscle or body aches, fever of 100oF or higher, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children). 

Because some of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm the diagnosis.

What are complications and who is at high risk?  

  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Bronchitis, pneumonia
  • Dehydration
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), muscle, and brain (encephalitis)
  • Multi-organ failure of the kidneys (that may require hemodialysis) or respiratory system (that may require placement of a breathing tube and being hooked up to a breathing machine)
  • Sepsis (the body’s life-threatening response to infection)

Children aged 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women (and their fetus), adults older than 65 years of age, people with weak immune systems, and those with chronic health conditions (e.g., heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, asthma) are at high risk. 

Best Method of Prevention and Protection Against Influenza – The Flu Shot

Getting immunized not only protects you, but those around you! The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get their yearly flu vaccine, underscoring it is especially important in those who are at an increased risk for complications. 

Facts are, those who are immunized and still catch the flu, generally have a decreased risk of complications, hospitalizations, and death. In other words, the flu shot blunts the impact and offers a vital level of protection.

Too, unlike some other immunizations that offer lifetime or many years of protection (e.g., pneumococcal, measles), you must get the flu shot every year. This is because the circulating influenza viruses change from year-to-year and immunity to them fades over time.   

When and where to get the flu vaccine?

Flu shots are already available! While flu season for the United States doesn’t usually begin until October, because of COVID-19, now is the time to start thinking about when, how and where you will get immunized against the flu this year. Experts believe that September and October are the best times to be vaccinated to achieve immunity throughout the flu season. Remember, too, it takes 2 weeks after your vaccination to achieve full immunity. 

Because of COVID-19, the CDC is working with healthcare providers, state and local health departments to create contingency plans to vaccinate people against the flu while maintaining social distancing. This includes: off-site vaccination clinics in the parking lots of churches, supermarkets, community centers, libraries, senior centers, sports arenas, and parking-lot drive up clinics; curbside inoculations outside doctors’ offices; and pharmacies and doctor’s offices with appropriate social distancing. 

Additional Everyday Preventive Actions

The influenza virus can float in the air as droplets, traveling up to 6 feet after someone coughs or sneezes, and survive on surfaces/objects. Thus, the protective measures against COVID-19 (facemasks, face coverings, physical distancing, handwashing, staying home when sick, cleaning surfaces) will also likely help protect against the flu. 

Take measures to stay as healthy as you can!

Infectious disease experts warn too that because the coronavirus has been shown to potentially affect multiple aspects of someone’s health, the combination of both COVID and the flu (or having one after another) along with any additional underlying conditions could be dire to your overall health, respiratory system and your ability to recover. Don’t take that risk! – It’s in your best interest (and for those you love) to get your flu vaccine and be vigilant in taking preventative health measures!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

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