OPINION: Getting through flu season during the COVID-19 pandemic

There’s a tremendous focus on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — and rightfully so. There is heightened concern given the rapid spread of the highly contagious omicron variant. However, it’s important for people to remember that we are also in the midst of flu season and both viruses are circulating in our communities causing people to get sick. The one thing we know about influenza is that it’s unpredictable.

Last year’s flu season was essentially non-existent because of mask wearing and social distancing. We don’t expect that to be the case this year. In fact, influenza cases are increasing across Connecticut and the entire country. We’re seeing cases across all ages, but especially among children and young adults. I anticipate that influenza activity will continue to increase in the coming weeks and months.

The most important defense against the flu is getting the flu vaccine. The vaccine works to decrease infection and the severity of symptoms. However, it does have to be given once a year because the strains of the virus that are circulating changes from year to year — similar to what we are seeing with the COVID-19 variants.

If you haven’t done so already, you should certainly get a flu shot. In fact, if you haven’t gotten the COVID vaccine either, they can both be administered at the same time. Studies show you will get the same immune response to both vaccines and the same side effects whether you get them together or separately. By all means, get both vaccines at the same time to help prevent serious illness or you can get them at different times. All that matters is that you get vaccinated for both the flu and COVID.

A big question going around right now — how can I tell if I have COVID or the flu? There’s no way to tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19. Both viruses cause respiratory illnesses that are contagious, from person to person and symptoms can be similar. In fact, you can have the flu and COVID at the same time — so testing is key. That’s the only way to know for sure. Of course, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask, avoiding crowds and people who are sick, and washing your hands can help minimize a person’s risk of getting sick with either virus.”

Dr. Virginia Bieluch is the chief of Infectious Diseases at MidState Medical Center. For more information about the flu vaccine, call 877.707.4422 to schedule an appointment at a Hartford HealthCare Medical Group primary care location or visit www.hartfordhealthcare.org/fluvaccine.


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