Author: Alvaro Sanchez, M.D.
Flu season has arrived. This is a time public health professionals have been concerned about, and it is here. It has been several months since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and issued a new era of mask wearing, social distancing, and public health efforts to mitigate spread of disease. Experts in the fields of public health, research, and medicine have made great strides in finding ways to combat this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. However, there is now a dual virus threat out there; so it is important that we, individually and nationally, are more adherent to guidelines and help minimize the harm to our neighbors.
It is difficult to differentiate between COVID-19 and influenza, or almost other respiratory virus that causes the common cold because the symptoms are largely similar. Fevers, chills, cough, fatigue, body aches, and other symptoms are typical of these conditions. Similarly, both coronavirus and influenza can cause severe complications in afflicted patients; so, we need to protect ourselves from both. It has, however, been shown that loss of taste and smell are more common in COVID when compared to flu. In addition, there have been cases of patients becoming affected by both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. Data is very limited as to how to manage COVID-flu coinfection; so, prevention is essential. It seems very likely that a co-infection will have greater health consequences than either alone.
One of the most important things everyone can do to protect themselves, their family and society is to get your flu shot this season. While we do not yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, we do at least have one for influenza. The influenza vaccine should be administered to all individuals, especially children, pregnant women and the elderly. While not as dangerous as COVID-19, influenza itself has the potential to cause disease severe enough to warrant hospitalization, and we need as many hospital beds open as possible as we continue to fight this pandemic.
There is more that can be done. COVID-19 and influenza are both respiratory viruses that spread by droplets. This means that the same efforts that are currently in place to curb coronavirus spread will help to prevent influenza. These efforts include mask wearing in public (surgical mask works better than cloth mask if available), frequent hand washing, disinfecting frequently touched objects, and social distancing of at least 6 feet from other people.
This winter season, it is critical that our society works together to combat this dual virus threat. It has been a long and hard year with the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there is a second threat out there. It is understandable that “pandemic fatigue” is looming, but now more than any other time this year is when it is most critical that we obey public health recommendations. To protect our fellow citizens, we must continue to practice social distancing, wash our hands, stay home when we are sick, and wear a facemask when out of our home. Healthcare workers have struggled and sacrificed to care for patients, and one of the best ways to show our support in helping end this pandemic is by accepting the influenza vaccine to give ourselves and our healthcare system the best chance at success.
Dr. Sanchez is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.