As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the country prepares to enter flu season, local health care providers are urging people to get their flu shots early.
“Get your flu shot, preferably in October and November, so it has time to be effective before flu season,” said Dr. Jon Martell, Hilo Medical Center’s chief medical officer.
Individuals also should continue other preventative measures like hand washing and social distancing, “just like you have been, because COVID is still around,” he said.
“COVID and the flu are basically transmitted the same way,” said Chad Shibuya, HMC’s director of infection prevention. “They’re respiratory illnesses that come out of the nose and mouth of a sick person. … Because COVID and the flu are transmitted in similar ways, like Dr. Martell says, if you wash your hands, socially distance and wear a mask, you’re doing well to reduce your risk of both.”
Martell said the two viruses have “overlapping symptoms,” which can cause confusion for people.
“In addition, you have to remember infection with one doesn’t protect you from infection from the other, so it’s possible to have one right after another — or even possible to have both at the same time,” he said.
Martell said COVID-19 is a huge burden on hospitals because of the number of patients who get sick and require hospitalization, but there also have been times when influenza has strained hospital capacity.
“If we put those two pieces together in the community (at the) same time, there’s a very real risk it could overwhelm the health care system,” Martell said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also calls for people to get a flu shot to help reduce the strain on health care systems that are busy responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
According to the CDC, a flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months and older, with rare exceptions.
While some medical experts have urged getting a flu shot to avoid a “twindemic,” or simultaneous outbreaks of both diseases, Martell said when looking at the last few months in the southern hemisphere, where the flu season peaks around August, because people were wearing masks, social distancing and observing good hygiene practices, there was little influenza.
“So, it was not a ‘twindemic’ in the southern hemisphere,” he said. “I have every reason to believe, if we can manage to keep our preventative measures in place, we can avoid it, but if we let our guard down (when) we go back to a fully open society, we’re at risk of (that).”
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