The flu vaccine prevents tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. For example, flu vaccinations during 2018–2019 prevented an estimated 58,000 flu-related hospitalizations (CDC). A 2017 study found that flu vaccinations reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and the overall duration of hospitalization for flu patients.
Yes, you may still contract the flu even with a flu shot, but it can make the illness less serious and prevent you from visiting the ICU. As we have all seen, COVID-19 alone can fill an ICU, so even a mild flu season this year is concerning. By getting the flu shot, you can help prevent a potential rise in ICU traffic.
Right now it isn’t possible to test for flu and COVID-19 with the same test. However, testing for the flu will affect the supply of COVID-19 tests.
“It turns out that the definitive tests for flu use essentially the same approach that we use for COVID-19 tests,” says Charles Chiu, MD, Ph.D., an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco. Both tests use the same reagent, a compound, or mixture used to detect the presence or absence of another substance. “With flu and COVID-19 sharing similar symptoms, the demand for both tests may increase and lead to reagent shortages,” said Chiu.
So this year, as we return to working in offices and in-person school with the continued concerns for COVID-19, anyone with a minor cough or typical sore throat is more likely to be tested. With testing capacity already strained, this additional stress could cause shortages or delayed results for other serious cases. By choosing to get a flu shot you can lessen the possibility that you need to be tested for COVID-19.
It’s too soon to understand the impact of being infected with COVID-19 and flu at the same time. “It’s not yet been established that dual or consecutive infection causes more severe disease, but I would speculate that’s likely the case because the same site of infection is involved,” said Chiu.
“What is clear is that the flu and COVID-19 both target the lung,” added epidemiologist George Rutherford, MD. “And to the extent that the lungs are damaged by one disease and the other one comes along and damages it more, you can get into trouble faster,” he said.
Rutherford also notes that influenza can make you more susceptible to infection by other pathogens and that many deaths during the 1918 flu pandemic were likely bacterial pneumonia as a secondary infection to influenza pneumonia.
As we know, many symptoms for COVID-19, flu, and other respiratory illnesses overlap with each other — making it harder to treat. While we continue to wait on a vaccine for COVID-19, we don’t have to wait on a vaccine for the flu. Take control and the steps to protect your health today.
We urge you to get a flu shot this year, particularly if you are an essential worker, immunocompromised, in the risk group for influenza complications (pregnant, young children), are a frequent visitor to anyone in a long-term care facility, or have children who are attending in-person school. For a full list of those at high risk, visit the CDC COVID-19 page here.
Flu shots are available at all Face Pace Health walk-in clinics. Open 7 days a week and no appointment is necessary.
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