The 2020-2021 flu season will occur alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in an unprecedented situation with unknown consequences.
Here is what we do know: Individuals with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of complications if they contract the virus. These same risks apply to those who have underlying conditions and contract the flu.
The Best Way to Prevent Illness is to Avoid Being Exposed
In addition to getting a flu shot to strengthen your immune system during this flu season, Geoffrey Leung, MD, RUHS Family Medicine Chair, says to remember the lessons learned from COVID to stay safe. He recommends the following:
- If you contract the flu or have flu-like symptoms, get tested for COVID-19 to ensure that it is just the flu.
- Stay away from others if you have any cold symptoms until you are no longer symptomatic.
- Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
- Continue to wear your mask.
- Continue to social distance.
What you need to know about the this year’s flu season:
- It is possible to contract both the flu and COVID-19 during this flu season.
- Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of complications once they contract the flu.
- This year’s flu shot is a combination of both the Flu A and Flu B strains making the vaccine a very close match. Later in the winter, there will be more data available to see how closely matched this flu shot is.
- Reminder: the flu shot does not prevent you from getting the flu. However, the flu shot strengthens your immune system to assist your body in fighting the virus. Therefore, shortening the time you are sick.
- Even though children were not in the high-risk population group for COVID-19, they are certainly part of the high-risk population for the flu season. During the 2018-2019 flu season, children under 18 accounted for more than 46,000 hospitalizations, according to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC). Having your child vaccinated is key this season.
- During the 2018-2019 season, the flu caused more than 35.5 million illnesses, more than 16.5 million medical visits and 34,200 deaths across the United States.
Use COVID-19 adopted preventions for the flu season
- Wash your hands, avoid touching your face and stay home if you have any flu symptoms.
- Get tested for COVID-19 to rule it out if you present with any flu symptoms.
- Quarantine measures are not needed with the flu the way it is for the pandemic, however, avoid close proximity with people until you are well.
- Continue to wear face masks in public.
- Continue to social distance.
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When to seek help:
Please go to an urgent care or emergency department if you have the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Passing out or lightheadedness
- Vomiting constantly
- High fever that will not go down with medication
Advice from RUHS Pharmacy Director Davalyn Tidwell, PharmD
“Getting the flu shot does not guarantee you will not get the flu, but it strengthens your immune system should you contract the flu. Also, if a person has received a flu shot, they often experience a reduction in the number of days being sick compared to individuals who do not get a flu shot.”
Riverside University Health System (RUHS) experts advise everyone to get a flu shot starting September 1, to prepare for a flu season that may last until March.
Questions and Answers by Dr. Leung, MD:
- How do I know if I have the flu or COVID-19?
In general, it is very difficult to differentiate symptoms of the common cold, influenza, and COVID. Respiratory symptoms, like cough and congestion, can occur with any of these infections. This is why we recommend that any individual who is sick or symptomatic stay at home and avoid work, school and gatherings of people. For any individual who is symptomatic or who believes there is a chance they may have COVID, we recommend getting COVID testing — same-day COVID testing by appointment is available at numerous locations throughout Riverside County.
- Can the flu turn into COVID-19?
The flu cannot turn into COVID, and COVID cannot turn into the flu. However, there have been a couple documented instances in which people have had co-infection of both flu and COVID.
- Can the flu vaccine help with COVID-19?
The flu vaccine is not designed for COVID. It is safe and effective for reducing the risk of getting the flu. For those who still get the flu, the vaccine appears to decrease the overall severity of symptoms. Interestingly, vaccines cause a short-term response in the immune system that may decrease the likelihood of getting other infections (beyond the target of the vaccine), including COVID. However, we do not currently recommend any non-COVID vaccine for the purpose of decreasing COVID transmission.
- How do I protect myself against the flu?
All of the tactics we use for COVID safety will also help with the flu. For the flu we have the additional tool of a vaccine that is safe and effective. Flu vaccine administration is recommended in September and October prior to the flu season. Given all of the unknowns related to the COVID pandemic, we strongly recommend that all members of the public get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.
- When do I seek medical attention if I get the flu?
If you experience trouble breathing, your fever does not reduce with the use of medication, you feel lightheaded or are fainting and vomiting, please seek medical attention immediately.
- Why do I need the flu shot if I am already wearing a mask?
Yes, wearing a mask is a great prevention method for contracting the flu. Once a patient gets the flu, a mask cannot help their immune system fight the virus. The flu shot helps to build antibodies that can aid your body in making the severity of your symptoms, lessened.
For a look at seasonal flu data, visit RUHS Public Health Disease Watch