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Why A Flu Shot Is Even More Important During The Pandemic

A woman receives a flu shot through a syringe in her upper arm.
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Experts say a flu shot will help avoid the flu, or reduce its impact if you get flu and coronavirus at the same time.

Oct. 1 marked the official beginning of flu season. An emergency room physician in North Texas explains what bothers the health community about having flu season amid a pandemic.

KERA's Sam Baker talked with Dr. Glenn Hardesty, an emergency room physician with Texas Health Hospital Plano.

On flu season during a pandemic

It could really be crippling because you have people that are infected with flu and you have patients infected with COVID both seeking care in the same location. That's a very, very concerning picture. We have experience now with treating COVID-19 patients. We have experienced with treating sick influenza patients. What we don't have is a lot of experience treating both of those simultaneously.

If someone suspected of having flu and coronavirus came into your emergency room, what would you do?

We would treat the flu with antivirals, which don't have any effect on the COVID. And then we would begin supportive treatment for COVID. And the treatment for COVID changes at a fairly rapid pace. So how exactly we will treat these patients is hard to say. We have steroids, we have some antiviral medications and we have treatment modalities that are changing, but we would choose the one that was currently showing the most promise.

Given the similar symptoms of flu and coronavirus, would the flu shot offer any protection against COVID-19?

The flu vaccine does not help or protect against COVID in any form.

That said, if people who had the flu shot do come down with COVID, the likelihood of a concurrent influenza infection is significantly reduced. The disease load on the patient would be significantly less than if they had not received the flu immunization.

Flu season normally peaks between December and February. Why are we urged to get the shot now?

It's hard to predict when the flu season is going to hit. I've seen as early as late October and going into June. I think what we want to do is provide some level of immunity in the population, especially going into these winter months where people are going to be indoors closer together. I think that's the concern.

What can a person do to prevent flu?

The best thing that you can do is to get a flu shot. It is just like wearing a mask and social distancing. It is a socially responsible thing to do this flu season. Even for those that have never taken the shot before, or for some reason, they've had a reason not to get it, this is the time to go ahead and get your flu shot this season.

RESOURCES

Tarrant County reports that a resident has contracted both COVID-19 and the flu

Why COVID-19 Means You Need a Flu Shot This Year

CDC: Influenza

CDC: Who Needs a Flu Vaccine and When

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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