HealthDecember 03, 2020

Tackling COVID-19 and flu this winter

Influenza season is here – a time when hospitals would usually see an increase of patients. Learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact flu season this year and what that means for patients and providers.

For the 2019-2020 flu season, the Center for Disease Control estimated there were 39 to 56 million flu illnesses, 18 to 26 million flu medical visits, and 410,000 to 740,000 flu hospitalizations. This year is not your normal flu season with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise around the U.S. and the world. Matthew Weissenbach, DrPH, CIC, FAPIC, says there is room for optimism however due to measures already being taken to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why is it important to curb flu cases this year? Individuals face the risk of contracting both COVID-19 and the flu this year – simultaneously or back-to-back.

Get a flu vaccine

Persons who are able to get a flu vaccine should do so as soon as possible. By getting your vaccine, you reduce your risk of getting sick, help limit community spread, and conserve healthcare resources that are already stretched to the limit. Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone six months of age and older, especially essential workers and those at increased risk of severe illness from influenza or COVID-19 such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions. If you are at high risk, it is especially important for you to get a flu vaccine this year.

Although people are understandably wary of contracting COVID-19, there are multiple locations to safely receive your flu vaccine such as your doctor’s office, health departments, and pharmacies. Some locations even offer drive-through vaccinations. These providers are keenly aware of and comply with the CDC guidelines for maintaining a safe environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue social-distancing and mask wearing measures

This flu season could turn out to be milder – and that’s the expectation – largely because of the dramatic shift in preventative behaviors throughout the community. Coupled with vaccines, the prevalence of widespread social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene compliance, and limits to community gatherings should limit influenza spread and create a more manageable flu season in comparison to past years.

To achieve a similar result in the Northern Hemisphere this winter, we must not revert to old habits. Widespread influenza vaccination and a continuation of preventative behaviors remain the primary strategies for supporting public health.

Communities & health systems will use clinical surveillance

Everybody can take the above measures in order to prevent health systems from being even more overwhelmed by both COVID-19 and flu cases this season. With the holidays and colder weather in many parts of the world coming up, it’s likely to increase case numbers as people are forced to do most of their activities inside. “Since symptoms for both infections are similar, some diagnostic testing manufacturers have developed combined testing kits which assess patients for multiple respiratory infections (including influenza and COVID-19) and distinguish between them with one patient sample,” said Weissenbach.

Matthew Weissenbach, DrPH, CIC, FAPIC,
Watch Video
What does COVID-19 immunity look like? We asked Matt Weissenbach, DrPH, CIC, FAPIC to explain the immune response to COVID-19.[No text in field]

“Availability and throughput of COVID-19 testing will continue to play an important role in supporting related surveillance efforts. Widespread antibody testing and a deeper understanding of the duration and strength of the immune response to COVID-19 infection among various segments of the population will also support surveillance needs. Influenza doesn’t play a role here.”

Matthew Weissenbach, DrPH, CIC, FAPIC,
Watch Video
What does COVID-19 immunity look like? We asked Matt Weissenbach, DrPH, CIC, FAPIC to explain the immune response to COVID-19.

The absence of the flu will play a key role however as every effort we make towards taming the spread of the flu this season will benefit our already-stretched hospitals and health systems as they struggle to tackle rising surges in hospitalized cases of COVID-19.

For more COVID-19 resources, visit Wolters Kluwer coronavirus resource page.

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