The Press Democrat -- Close to Home: Flu shots guard against a‘twindemic’
BILL DODD AND KAREN SMITH
BILL DODD IS A STATE SENATOR, AND KAREN SMITH IS A FORMER STATE HEALTH DIRECTOR.
November 8, 2020
What’s worse than a bad influenza season? A bad flu season on top of a pandemic.
The possibility of such a “twindemic” this fall is a threat to the public’s health like never before. The collision of these two diseases could strain the medical system by exposing our health care workforce and other essential workers to yet another serious respiratory illness, overwhelming both our testing capability and health system capacity.
It is also likely that people infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time could suffer more severe illness or death than those with the coronavirus or influenza alone. The people at greatest risk from both infections, the elderly and the medically vulnerable, are also those who are most likely to suffer the most severe outcomes.
Fortunately, there’s a good way to protect yourself from co-infection with flu and COVID-19. While a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be available for most of us until next spring at the earliest, multiple, effective flu vaccines are licensed every year by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Flu vaccines are available now in our communities. People 6 months old and older should get vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible.
Flu season usually peaks between December and February, with as many as 50 million Americans getting infected. Up to 800,000 people are hospitalized each year, and between 30,000 and 60,000 people die.
Like the coronavirus, the flu is a contagious, respiratory illness that spreads from person to person by droplets released when people sneeze, cough, sing or talk. Unlike COVID-19, however, the flu is usually over in a few days and the symptoms — while similar — are often less severe.
We now know that influenza is far less deadly than the coronavirus, which has killed more than 235,000 people nationwide in less than eight months. But getting flu in combination with COVID-19 could have dire consequences. Doctors treating patients with both flu and COVID-19 have reported that such co-infection can have dire consequences, including death.
And it is important that we all do our part to ensure that we don’t unnecessarily fill hospital beds with people suffering from influenza, a preventable disease, when hospitalizations from COVID-19 continue to rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that flu vaccines prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza infections in 2018-19 along with an estimated 2.3 million medical visits. Vaccination was especially effective in reducing flu-related illness in children, working-age adults and older people.
Despite this, only about half of Americans get a flu shot each year, leading to unnecessary illness, lost work time, medical visits and deaths.
Getting a shot is relatively easy. Medical providers across the North Bay and beyond have shifted into high gear to provide safe places to get flu shots and nasal flu vaccine, which are typically covered by insurance or are free to people of limited means. The California Department of Public Health suggests checking with your doctor before being vaccinated.
You can find the nearest vaccination location at vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine. Many local public health departments are also offering drive-through and other free- or low-cost vaccination clinics. You’ll find a list of these resources at sd03.senate.ca.gov.
The bottom line is this: flu season is here now. Combined with the coronavirus, this could be the worst flu season in our lifetimes. But you can protect yourself by getting vaccinated. Do it for yourself, your family and everyone around you.
Bill Dodd, D-Napa, represents the 3rd state Senate District. Dr. Karen Smith is a former director of the California Department of Public Health and also served as Napa County’s public health officer.
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