Primary care providers share why getting a flu shot is more important than ever

Oct 19, 2020


(Tuesday, October 6, 2020 Mendocino County CA) -- Every year, influenza causes thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations in the U.S. During last year’s flu season, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, the flu caused up to 18 million clinic visits, more than 410,000 hospitalizations and more than 24,000 deaths.

October is the unofficial start of flu season, creating an overlap of COVID-19 and influenza this winter. You may have many questions about what this means to you and your family. Now more than ever, experts are emphasizing the need for getting the flu shot to avoid having a perfect storm of the flu and COVID-19, since each brings its own list of symptoms and serious complications.

Primary care providers from Adventist Health are answering your most common questions about COVID-19 and the flu:

What is the difference between Influenza (flu) and COVID-19?

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include: Fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, runny nose, muscle pain or body aches and headaches. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. A major difference for COVID-19 may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

Is it possible to get COVID-19 and flu at the same time?

“We’re still dealing with COVID-19, even as our cases overall are going down,” explains Lindsay Helvey, a Ukiah family nurse practitioner. “Flu season starts in October, usually goes throughout February and sometimes extends into April.” Individuals could contract both the flu and COVID-19, which have similar respiratory symptoms, at the same time, causing further complications, she says. “Having both illnesses together would likely mean you would have much more severe symptoms. And, if your immune system is trying to fight off two illnesses simultaneously, that could put you at higher risk for a poor outcome or a severe illness, especially for those who are high-risk to begin with.”

Is COVID-19 more dangerous than flu?

Flu and COVID-19 can both result in serious illness, including illness resulting in hospitalization or death. While experts are still learning about COVID-19, at this time, it does seem that COVID-19 is more deadly than the flu. However, it is too early to say for sure since COVID-19 is a new virus.

Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?

While getting a flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, getting a flu shot has many other important benefits, including reducing illness, hospitalization or death. Reducing flu hospitalizations also will free up healthcare resources for COVID-19 cases, says Zoe Berna, MD, a Mendocino Coast family medicine physician. “We depend on the same healthcare professionals and equipment to deal with the flu as we do with COVID-19, such as respiratory therapists, ventilators and oxygen. Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu, but also to help conserve potentially scarce healthcare resources.”

Who should get the flu vaccine?

“To be on the safer side, we should all get the flu vaccine not only to protect ourselves, but to protect those who are at risk of having complications,” Berna adds, “It’s especially important for those people who have elderly members in the household to receive the vaccine.” Those who should receive a flu shot includes adults over 65 years old, those with underlying illnesses like asthma or heart disease, pregnant women, caretakers who are exposed to vulnerable groups, most children and essential workers, among others. “Since children under 6 months can’t get vaccinated yet, adults who care for them are advised to get the flu shot,” she says.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

According to the CDC, October is a good time to get vaccinated. Getting it during the fall will make sure you’re protected throughout the season, which can last through April.

Is it safe to go to a hospital or clinic to get a flu vaccine during a pandemic?

All our facilities, including hospitals and clinics in Ukiah, Willits and Fort Bragg, are taking additional precautions to keep patients safe, including requiring masks, screening for symptoms, limiting visitors and social distancing where possible. If you have concerns or questions about visiting your physician’s office, go ahead and give them a call ahead of time.

Can COVID-19 measures protect against a bad flu season?

“The silver lining with us being in a pandemic right now is that everyone is already taking precautions. Anything that we do to reduce COVID-19 transmission will also help with reducing transmission of the flu,” shares Berna.

Those good hygiene measures you’ve been taking to avoid COVID-19 can also help protect you from the flu, so be sure to: wear a mask in public places, wash your hands often, social distance and don’t gather with people outside your household.

Many still agree, however, that the most important and obvious precaution people can take this flu season is the flu shot.

While some have put off their health as we sheltered in place to stop the stop, it’s time to get back on track. An appointment with your primary care provider will be a great starting point to talk about flu shots and other vaccinations and important screenings you and your family should think about to stay healthy.

Call 1-833-249-3556 to see an Adventist Health primary care provider in in Ukiah, Willits and Fort Bragg. Flu shots are also available at Howard Pharmacy in Willits.