Flu season is fast approaching and most communities are still fighting COVID-19. Choosing healthy behaviors today can blunt the impact of the flu season, protect you from getting or spreading COVID-19, and reduce strain on our health care system.
Now is the time to stay vigilant; exercise caution and continue to follow CDC guidelines for social distancing, covering your face, and hand washing, especially as the weather gets colder, holidays approach and temptation for indoor gatherings grows. Emergency physicians also encourage everyone who is eligible to get a flu shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for everyone six months of age or older. People with chronic health conditions, elderly individuals, racial or ethnic minorities, and health care workers are among those at highest risk of getting flu and/or COVID-19 and should prioritize getting the vaccine.
Even during a mild flu season, many emergency physicians can see an influx of patients that stretches the emergency department to capacity. A combined surge of COVID-19 and flu patients puts any facility at risk of being overcrowded or under-resourced. Getting a flu shot reduces the severity of symptoms and gives people a better chance to stay healthy and avoid hospitalization.
Emergency departments are taking extensive steps to protect patients at this time. Hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies are taking precautions to be as safe as possible and encourage people to get vaccinated during the pandemic. Some communities are converting less traditional venues for care—such as sports arenas or other large indoor spaces—to meet public health needs. These facilities should be following the same set of best practices to make sure patients are protected.
Vaccine misinformation is also very concerning. Getting a flu shot does not increase the risk of getting COVID-19, according to the CDC. At the same time, getting a flu shot does not guarantee protection against COVID-19. The flu and COVID-19 are different respiratory viruses with some similar symptoms. A COVID-19 test for those with flu-like symptoms can help a health professional confirm the right diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment.