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Flu shots ‘extremely important’ this year

As flu season returns, health care providers are urging residents to remember to get a flu vaccine this year.

“It’s extremely, extremely important this year, more than ever, to get a flu shot,” said Mallory Quincey, CRNP at Pike Internal Medicine.

“We’ve never had a global pandemic in the middle of a flu season before, and we don’t know how COVID-19 is going to interact with the flu,” she added. “So, to decrease your chance of having both illnesses, please get vaccinated.”

The potential “twin-demic” of flu season combined with the COVID-19 global pandemic is causing concern for local health care providers and the CDC. From 2018 to 2019, 35.5 million people were infected with the flu and more than 34,000 died from it, according to the CDC. So far in 2020, more than 6.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and more than 186,830 have died from it.

And while America has an effective vaccine for the flu, it still has no vaccine for COVID-19 and no reliably effective treatment protocols.

“Why not protect yourself?” Quincey said.

Quincy said she already has treated one confirmed case of the flu this year, well ahead of the peak season. “The CDC defines the peak season as Oct. 1 through March 31,” she said. “But yes, I’ve already seen cases of the flu.”

Like the novel coronavirus, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that spread through droplets. It can be transmitted by close contact and is highly contagious, making it dangerous for high risk populations such as the elderly or individuals who are immunocompromised, just like COVID-19.

Classic symptoms for the flu are fever, body aches, cough and other respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath. COVID-19 has all of those and more, including sore throat; rashes; heart strain; exhaustion; and a loss of the sense of taste and smell, among others.

Experts have said it is possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

“I think the standard for care is going to be to test for both COVID-19 and the flu,” Quincey said.

Ahead of that, Quincey said individuals should seek out the flu vaccine. The vaccine delivered through a shot is not a live vaccine, and takes about two to three weeks to take full effect. That is why experts recommend seeking the vaccine in September or October, before flu season begins to peak. The shots are available through physicians’ offices, the health department, and pharmacies. “If you come here, you don’t even have to make an appointment,” Quincey said. “Of course, we prefer you call ahead to let us know you’re coming, but you can even call from the parking lot and we can have someone come outside to meet you if you’re not comfortable coming in the office. “The most important thing is that we want you to get that flu vaccine.”