There’s good news and bad news when it comes to this year’s flu season.
The bad news, of course, is that influenza is back as COVID-19 is still circulating here and worldwide. You can actually get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, meaning doing everything you can to protect yourself from both is particularly important this year.
And that brings us to the good news — you can take steps to protect yourself and your family from both viruses, which is critical not only for your inner circle but also the larger community and all those with whom you come into contact.
Step one is simple: Get your flu shot. The seasonal flu vaccine is out now, and the sooner you get it, the better. No flu vaccine is perfect, but getting it greatly reduces your chances of contracting the virus. And if you do get sick, your illness is likely to be less severe than if you hadn’t gotten your vaccination in the first place.
Getting your flu shot is quick and simple, and health systems like Bellin are making it even easier this year through extended flu clinic hours, drive-up options and other accommodations to simplify the process (you can check out BellinFluFacts.org for a list of flu clinics in your area). Worried about cost? The flu shot is often covered by insurance, and there are reduced-cost and free options available for those in need. Call your healthcare provider’s office for information on these programs.
Step two in the COVID-flu fight is knowing your enemy. From fever and cough to shortness of breath and fatigue (and more), the two illnesses have a symptom list that is nearly identical. Loss of taste or smell is unique to COVID-19, but otherwise it can be tough to know which one you have based on symptoms alone. Getting your flu shot can aid your provider in the diagnostic process, and knowing which illness you have is important for knowing when to quarantine (though you really shouldn’t be going anywhere when sick with either virus).
Step three should come as no surprise: Wear your mask and keep your distance. Masking is more to protect others than to protect yourself, as a mask keeps your possibly virus-laden respiratory droplets from being expelled into the air around you. Masking requirements and social distancing guidelines are another possible good-news note when it comes to fighting this year’s flu — experts think these practices could reduce the prevalence of influenza circulating this season.
Finally, don’t forget the other time-honored flu fighters as we battle the influenza-COVID one-two punch. Hand hygiene is critical, stay home when you’re sick and cover that cough.
We can fight the flu and combat COVID-19. Be smart, get your flu shot and do everything you can to stay healthy this season.
Paul Scott is a primary care physician with Bellin Health in Peshtigo.