By: Cindy Hou, DO, Jefferson Health – New Jersey
Flu season doesn’t take a backseat to a pandemic, and the simultaneous spread of the flu and COVID-19 will be uncharted territory. But one thing is certain: the best way to prepare for this situation is to get your annual flu shot.
While not 100 percent effective, the influenza vaccine is the most effective prevention method and is advised by health officials for everyone six months and older.
The flu, like COVID-19, can unfortunately take even the healthiest lives. Immunization is important in all individuals, even if they are healthy, but is especially important for those at a higher risk for infection, including people with diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disease, chronic lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, obesity, and many other conditions. Pregnant women and people who live in nursing homes are also at risk for the flu.
This flu season, our nation’s health systems will face unique challenges. One of the biggest concerns is the possible surge of both viruses, which could further impact already-taxed hospital intensive care units. It is not only a question of whether or not there will be enough personal protective equipment, beds, and ventilators, but how the “double whammy” of flu and COVID-19 might impact frontline healthcare workers.
There is also a possibility of contracting both viruses at the same time, which could carry dire consequences. The onslaught of two diseases could potentially accelerate hospitalizations due to respiratory infections.
The infection prevention measures we have all practiced diligently during the pandemic will hopefully compliment the flu vaccine. Handwashing, physical distancing, cleansing of high-touch surfaces, and wearing a mask can help to reduce flu transmission. However, consistency is key. We need to stick to it! Remember to practice these safe behaviors.
With social-distancing measures likely to be in place as long as COVID-19 is an issue, hospitals and health systems may need to increase accessibility to flu shots in innovative ways. Remember to check with your primary care provider, specialist, or local pharmacy to get your vaccine.
We want to do everything possible to reduce the spread of both COVID-19 and the flu. Now is not the time to let our guard down. We need to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and even people we do not know, whose lives are also in our hands.
Cindy Hou, DO, MA, FACOI, FIDSA, is an Infectious Diseases specialist and Infection Control Officer at Jefferson Health – New Jersey. She can be reached at (856) 566-3190.
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