Even though we might feel preoccupied with the Delta surge of the pandemic, we must not look the other way on flu season, which is fast approaching. Technically, the influenza virus — of which there are many different types — is with us all the time, but we consider October to April or even as late as May “flu season,” when cases peak.
We’ve all learned a little bit about disease surveillance since Covid, and the flu undergoes the same scrutiny by the CDC. In fact, the CDC publishes its flu surveillance on FluView. Much like with Covid data, the CDC examines weekly flu cases by type, number and location.
Getting your flu vaccine is always important, but it’s even more so when we are still knee deep in the pandemic because a surge in Covid cases could trigger an increased need for hospital beds. The flu vaccine reduces flu-related illness by 40% to 60% and minimizes symptoms if you do get the virus. In terms of our healthcare system, the flu vaccine can drop influenza-related ICU admissions by 26% and deaths by 31%.
For comparison, the Covid vaccine is approximately 95% effective at preventing serious illness and death.
Flu and Covid have many symptoms in common and can mimic each other, so it’s important to be able to differentiate among the two. If you develop symptoms like cough, fever, muscle aches, sore throat and runny nose, testing for both flu and Covid is needed to determine which virus is the culprit, as a Covid-positive patient requires isolation.
The CDC analyzes the previous year’s flu data and predicts which viruses are likely to be dominant strains for the upcoming flu season. This year’s flu vaccine is ‘quadrivalent’ which means that are four different viral strains in the vaccine, giving you protection against two strains of both Influenza A and B.
So who should get the flu vaccine? In short, everyone over 6 months of age inclusive of pregnant women. As with Covid, people at risk for severe disease are the elderly and immunocompromised and those with chronic conditions, such as heart attack, diabetes, asthma or COPD. Additionally, the flu carries risk of severe disease for infants and children under 2 years of age.
Flu vaccines are now becoming available at local pharmacies and primary care offices. Flu vaccines and Covid vaccines can be safely administered at the same time.