The last thing we want during this coronavirus pandemic is to spread another infectious disease. And yet even in this “new normal” of wearing masks and keeping distance, we must prepare ourselves for flu season.
Public health experts brace for the dual threat of influenza and COVID-19 in the coming months. What many are calling the “twindemic” effect. How severe this “twindemic” effect could be, doctors aren’t sure. But we do know both of these illnesses can rapidly sicken communities and overcrowd hospitals.
“The symptoms of influenza infection and COVID-19 are similar. Both can be deadly,” says Dr. Kunjana Mavunda, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist at Kidz Medical Services in South Florida. She refers to the symptoms shared by the flu and coronavirus. Which include but not limited to cough, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, and fever. It will be extremely difficult for medical experts to clinically tell the difference between these infectious diseases based on the common symptoms alone. Which makes it possible for a single patient to have the flu, the coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses at the same time.
The flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory infections. But you can protect yourself from one with a vaccine and the other by wearing a mask and social distancing. In an interview with MarketWatch, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the highest ranking medical expert in the US, said “we’re telling people that, when flu vaccines become available. Make sure you get vaccinated so that you could blunt the effect of one of those two potential respiratory infections.”
At this time, you can follow expert-approved tips to best protect yourself from the coronavirus and flu. Here’s what health professionals have to say about taking the flu vaccine amid a global pandemic.
WHEN AND WHERE TO TAKE THE FLU VACCINE
It is important to get a flu vaccine every year, but particularly this season to protect your health during a public health crisis. Currently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the flu vaccine in September or October.
“Typically, in the United States, influenza begins in earnest around November and it peaks in January and February. It takes about two weeks to mount a good immune response after receiving the vaccine.” says Dr. John Swartzberg, MD, FACP, Clinical Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and Editorial Board Chair for UC Berkeley Health and Wellness Publications.
In the United States, the flu vaccine can be administered at multiple locations. Including your doctor’s clinic, health departments and pharmacies. You can use the website VaccineFinder.org to find your nearest vaccination location.
Flu vaccination is crucial to guard community health, which means it’s especially essential today. When getting the flu vaccine, make sure you go to a location that follows the CDC’s vaccination pandemic guidance. It is important to follow the CDC-recommended everyday preventative actions when getting the flu vaccine, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing to protect yourself. After receiving the flu vaccine, do not forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
WHO SHOULD TAKE THE FLU VACCINE
Getting the flu vaccine is not just about safeguarding you from the flu, but also others around you who may not be able to medically receive the vaccine. The CDC says that most individuals six months or older should receive the flu vaccine. In very rare cases, some adults should not get the flu vaccine, especially if they have life-threatening allergies to the ingredients. If you are not sure whether you should get a flu vaccine or not, consult a licensed healthcare professional who can guide you to the best, most informed decision.
Flu vaccination is really important for people who live with or care for individuals at high risk for receiving the flu, explains Dr. Mavunda.
“The viral load at time of infection,” she says, “and [pre-existing] comorbidities, such as diabetes, obesity, and immunosuppression caused by certain medications or baseline illnesses, may lead to worse disease.”
Certain age groups are also more susceptible to catching the flu. Seniors age 65 and older require a higher dose of the flu vaccine, as they may not build antibodies in the two-week timeframe after vaccination as younger adults and children would. In order to build up immunity for months into flu season, they take a flu vaccine with four times the antigen.
Children younger than 5, especially younger than 2, are also at high risk of contracting the flu. As their immune system has not yet exposed to the flu in nature, Children who get their first flu vaccine typically receive a tandem booster shot.
This season, the CDC recommends that children between 6 months and 8 years take two doses of the vaccine spaced at least four weeks apart. It is encouraged to start this process early, before the flu spreads in your community. If you have young children, consult a licensed healthcare professional about vaccination and dosage for further guidance.
Healthcare Professionals also needs a flu vaccine
If you work in the field of healthcare, it is absolutely critical to get the flu vaccine early on, before the “twindemic” spreads rapidly in your community. Research shows that the vaccination of healthcare workers has linked to lower work absenteeism and fewer deaths among patients in nursing homes.
People may argue that it is not worth taking a vaccine that only has about 50 percent efficacy in preventing the flu. While that figure is true, vaccination significantly reduces chances of severe sickness. There are serious health risks for individuals who can take the flu vaccine but choose not to. It can increase the chance of contracting COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. Which can result in more severe, compounded symptoms.
“Occasionally, people can be infected with both viruses simultaneously,” Dr. Swartzberg says. “Getting one of these diseases after the other would be quite serious. By receiving the influenza vaccine, we can reduce the number of people hospitalized with influenza. We need to save our hospital beds for taking care of COVID-19 patients.”
While the possibility of contracting two infections seems scary. The bright side shows that getting vaccinated fosters a sense of protection against the flu. Moreover, the safety measures of social distancing and wearing masks to prevent the coronavirus also helps prevent the flu. Because both viruses can transmit through respiratory droplets. Preventative steps such as these help take care of the immune system at this time.