Double trouble: What you need to know about flu season amid COVID-19 pandemic

Double-whammy of influenza and COVID-19 predicted for fall

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fall is just around the corner and we can already smell the pumpkin spice through our masks. While we may sometimes forget that we are still in a pandemic, we should never let our guard down especially as flu season gets underway.

According to health officials, flu season typically begins in late fall, with peaks in mid-to-late winter -- January to February -- and through early spring. Long story short, flu season sticks around for a while. Thirteen weeks to be exact, although, on some rare occasions, flu season can linger into May.

But what about COVID-19? One virus doesn’t cancel the other out; instead, we’re stuck in a world when viruses collide.

The flu, unlike its ugly cousin COVID-19, has a vaccine and health experts agree, everyone should get it.

Dr. Tim Hendrix, the medical director of AdventHealth Centra Care said because of the pandemic, it’s important now more than ever to get the flu shot.

“You’re dealing with two epidemics. You’re dealing with COVID and you’re dealing with seasonal flu at the same time,” Hendrix said.

The overlap of the influenza season and the coronavirus pandemic could overwhelm the health care system if people don’t get the flu vaccine.

“This could be the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had,” CDC Director Robert Redfield warned in a video interview with WebMD.

Hendrix echoed similar concerns during Thursday’s Morning Briefing with AdventHealth.

“There’s alwasy the potential of overwhelming our healthcare facilities, our doctor’s offices, our Centra Cares in terms of the volume of people coming in to get treated,” Hendrix said.

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get the yearly flu vaccine. The sooner you get it, the better, officials said.

Getting the vaccine into the arms and noses of the public will be especially hard this year as many of the venues where shots are normally given, including workplace campaigns and back-to-school fairs, aren’t being held this year. Instead, people will have to rely on medical offices to receive the vaccine.

Once at the doctor’s office, there won’t be a shortage of doses. Officials have pointed out that boxes of the flu vaccine have been packed for weeks and are already on their way to doctors and pharmacies.

“I’ve said if there’s one thing we all can do, besides the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing, hand washing and being smart about gatherings, to ultimately prepare ourselves for the fall, (it’s) to get the flu vaccine,” Redfield added.

Dr. Hendrix said he won’t try to predict the number of flu cases this season. He said we can look at how countries in the southern hemisphere, where it is winter now, are handling the flu during the pandemic. He said they are seeing lower rates.

But he cautions that isn’t an exact indicator of what we can expect because many countries are taking additional measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, like lock downs and closing schools.

“For us it’s hard to extrapolate that because we’re opening schools, we’re getting back into the school year and we’re trying to get back out there and get our businesses reopened,” Dr. Hendrix said.

Dr. Hendrix said everyone can do their part to keep the community healthy by getting the flu shot and continuing to follow safety measures.

“We can get our flu shots, so we have one thing we can do for the flu that’s different than COVID-19. The rest that we do is the same: wearing our face masks and social distancing, avoiding large groups,” he said.

The overall answer to the looming question of what will happen when the viruses collide is nothing, so long as we are prepared, get vaccinated and keep up with the social distancing habits.

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