Last year, the flu season was practically nonexistent. That's thanks to the strict preventative measures taken against COVID-19. Wearing masks, social distancing, staying at home and handwashing helped keep the flu virus in check. But this year's flu has some experts worried.
"We're nervous about what this upcoming flu season is going to look like," says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious diseases specialist. "The upcoming flu season is a bit of a question mark because we had very low rates of circulation of influenza last year. We have lower levels of general population immunity against influenza, which sets us up for a situation where we could have quite a severe flu season this year. And so that's why we would advocate for people to get vaccinated as one of the safest and best measures to prevent getting infected or spreading influenza this season."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that on average, 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu every year. They recommend that everyone over 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. Rajapakse says it takes two weeks after getting the vaccine to build up immunity.
"It is safe to get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time," Rajapakse says.
She adds that symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar.
"It will be impossible to look at someone and know whether they have influenza or COVID-19," Rajapakse says. "The only way to distinguish between those two infections is to get a test that tells you which virus you have. And so everything we can do to reduce flu infections, to reduce spread of other respiratory viruses will be helpful."
The CDC says getting the flu vaccine by the end of October is a good idea, because the flu season tends to get rolling by November and December.
Talk to your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about the flu season or flu vaccine.
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