Influenza (commonly known as the “flu”) season is, unfortunately, always a bit unpredictable. While outbreaks occur nearly every winter, the severity depends on how well the strains in the flu vaccine match the strains that are circulating in communities. Since vaccine strains must be selected before each flu season begins, it can be hard to know how effective it will be in advance. And while the flu can be unpredictable in typical years, it’s even more so this year due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
To put it simply, experts still don’t know exactly how COVID-19 will interact with influenza this winter. However, there are still things you can do to prepare for flu season and keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe this winter:
- Monitor Your Symptoms
Because some of the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of the flu, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. Common symptoms for both COVID-19 and influenza can include fever or chills, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches and more. Luckily, there are still some key differences between the two viruses (although it’s important to note that asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 can display no symptoms at all). For one, COVID-19 can take longer to develop symptoms once you’re exposed. Unlike influenza, COVID-19 can also cause changes in or loss of smell and taste. You can learn more about these differences by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
- Follow Best Practices
One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that most of us are already practicing increased hygiene and sanitation habits. Since the influenza virus is transmitted via infected droplets in the air (typically from someone’s cough or sneeze), mask wearing should help limit the spread of the virus this winter. Other common COVID-19 precautions — such as washing your hands with soap and water for at least 40 seconds and keeping your immune system healthy by getting enough sleep and exercise — will also help protect you against other common viruses, such as the flu. Learn more about COVID-19 precautions you should be taking.
- Get Vaccinated
The flu vaccine is the primary means of preventing influenza, helping your body develop antibodies that protect you from the virus. The best time to get your flu shot is in late September or early October, however, as long as flu viruses are circulating, the vaccination is still important. It’s particularly important for seniors to get their immunizations early, since 90% of all flu-related deaths occur in those over the age of 65. Patients over the age of 65 are recommended to receive the “high-dose” flu vaccine.
Keep in mind that COVID-19 precautions are still in effect, so the vaccination process may be different than in years past. The Public Health Department of Santa Clara County provides resources for flu in our community, including health tips for those suffering from flu, and where you can get vaccinated. You can also make an appointment with your doctor to get vaccinated, or visit the nearest clinic or drugstore offering vaccines.
While we don’t know exactly what will happen this flu season, it’s important to do your part to keep yourself and your community safe. Make sure to monitor your symptoms, continue practicing proper hygiene precautions and get your flu vaccination as soon as possible.
This article first appeared in the October 2020 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.