Although flu season is looming, COVID-19 is an unforeseen addition to be aware of this year and it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself and get a flu shot.
Fall and winter constitute “Flu Season” in the United States, with cases peaking between December and February. Last year there were over 36,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in Arizona alone. Each year the flu vaccine is designed to protect against strains of flu that research indicates will be most common during that particular season. With flu season quickly approaching, many people are curious how the current pandemic will affect it.
According to Jami Hagler, PA, Vice President of Medical Operations of the Western Region for FastMed Urgent Care, protecting yourself from the flu this year is especially important because doing so will limit the chances of contracting both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time.
“Unfortunately the flu vaccine does not protect you against COVD-19, but it will help ensure that you don’t have both viruses at the same time,” Hagler said. “Being able to do anything you can that will limit your chances of catching flu is best to ensure that you feel much better and you don’t have basically a double whammy of those viruses.”
In addition to protecting yourself and those around you, getting a flu shot is a way to keep our medical systems from being overwhelmed. Dr. Janice Johnston, medical director and cofounder of Redirect Health, says that although many do not consider the flu a deadly disease, it can absolutely become life threatening. “We do know that flu vaccines will prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. “So that’s the biggest thing, by getting your flu shot you’re helping to protect our medical system.”
COVID-19 and the flu have very similar signs and symptoms. With both viruses, symptoms can range from none at all to very mild to very severe. Common symptoms that are shared include: fever or feeling feverish (having chills), cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, headache, body aches and muscle pain, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose. Hagler said the biggest difference between the viruses is with COVID-19, a change or loss of taste or smell is often reported.
Dr. Johnston, her husband and her daughter all contracted COVID-19 this past summer. She said that she and her daughter had fairly mild symptoms, but that her husband became very sick and had to receive oxygen and steroids on more than one occasion. “I would put him in the long hauler category,” she said. “We’re four months out and he still has symptoms, so it’s definitely something that hits different people in different ways.”
Prevention for both COVID-19 and the flu are the same precautions that many health professionals have been touting throughout the pandemic: cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often, keep six feet apart and be seen by your medical care providers if you feel sick. The most important thing anyone can do this upcoming flu season according to both Hagler and Dr. Johnston is get their flu shot. “The biggest thing is get your flu vaccine. You should do that every year,” Hagler says. “It’s very protective and you want to make sure that you’re protecting yourself from as much as possible.”