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Get the flu shot to prevent a 'twindemic,' the combination of the flu and COVID-19, Wash U infectious disease specialist says

It's the first time we're seeing the flu season happen during a global pandemic

ST. LOUIS — Health experts are bracing for a 'twindemic,' as the flu season inches closer.

It's the first time we're seeing the flu season happen during a global pandemic.

5 On Your Side spoke to an infectious disease doctor, Dr. Steve Lawrence, a Washington University infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, to give you information and tips on how to prepare.

Q: Could you get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?

It’s very likely that can happen. Influenza, often times, we see you can have it at the same time with other respiratory viruses. So, there is no reason for us to believe that COVID-19 and influenza can’t occur at the same time. We anticipate that can happen.

Q: What's the difference of symptoms and severity between flu and COVID?

These two illness overlap a tremendous amount as many other respiratory viral illnesses share common features.

Flu will manifest itself and it's like getting hit by a truck. You suddenly feel achy, have a fever, dry cough, and a sore throat.

COVID-19 may start more in the respiratory area, which may be mild to start with. One thing is fairly common with many people is the loss of taste or sense of smell. Some people it stays mild and goes away. Others have a period of time, it gets worse.

Q: How is this year’s flu season/flu shot different than years before with COVID now part of the picture?

The vaccines aren't that different. They are tweaked just a little bit to take into account that the flu virus mutates a little.

The big update this year is the vaccine recommended for seniors, who are 65 years old and up. There are now have four strains in there instead of three, so there is broader protection for our seniors.

Q: Should people who had COVID-19 still get the flu shot?

People who have COVID-19 should still get the flu shot because there is no reason to believe that they wouldn’t get the flu. It's recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. It's super important so we can try to prevent these two epidemics from crashing together at the same time.

Q: Timing of flu shot – any different recommendation this year compared to prior?

We are recommending the flu shots taken as soon as you find them. It’s already September. While it’s a bit earlier than we recommend than prior years, but because of the fact that COVID-19 activity is high right now, we are really trying to prevent an early flu season from occurring.

Q: Will flu shot protect you against COVID-19?

We wouldn’t have any reason to believe that it would give protection against COVID-19, but if it prevents you from getting the flu, which then could happen at the same time as COVID-19, then it could mean that if you get COVID-19 later, it’s not going to be complicated or worse if you get the flu at the same time.

Q: Are you worried for the combination of these two being at the same time?

We are concerned about that. At an individual level, having both puts people at risk of getting that one two punch with either flu or COVID.

At a health system level, if they are both peaking at the same time, two separate epidemics with double the number of really sick people, it can overflow and exceed capabilities of our healthcare system. 

We want to prevent that double epidemic happening at the same time.

This year more than ever it’s important to get your flu vaccine and try to get it before the end of October.


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