Getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever as the 2020-21 flu season begins its collision course with the COVID-19 pandemic, warned Burnet County Health Authority Dr. Jules Madrigal. She added her voice to recent alerts from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Texas Health and Human Services about the upcoming flu season.
Not only could flu season put undue strain on an already embattled health care system, patients can contract both the flu virus and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 at the same time, causing further complications. This could be especially dangerous for children.
While COVID-19 doesn’t appear to affect children in the same way it does adults, the flu can be especially hard on younger patients.
“Talk about a double whammy,” Madrigal said. “That’s where we’re getting concerned. We don’t know what the flu in a baby that gets COVID could do. That could be the great equalizer that we’re afraid of.”
Everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated to prevent the flu — the earlier, the better.
“COVID and the flu decrease your immune system,” Dr. Madrigal said. “Both can land people in the hospital if they get a double whammy. It would be way more likely that you would be doing very poorly if you got flu and COVID simultaneously.”
Aside from vaccines, standard preventative flu measures include frequent hand washing and covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing. The same practices that prevent the spread of the coronavirus also prevent the spread of the influenza virus.
“If we keep wearing masks, we could have a really, really mild flu season,” Madrigal said. “Other countries that are on the other side of the hemisphere, their flu season was almost nonexistent this year. If you look at Australia, Argentina, Chilé, they had an extremely mild flu season. We know it’s because people were wearing masks to protect against COVID.”
If you already have the flu, antiviral drugs could help shorten the duration or lessen the severity of the disease if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, according to the CDC.
The components in flu vaccines are updated each year to better match the viruses predicted to be circulating in the current season.
Visit the DSHS flu page to see where vaccines are available or for more information.