The Two-Virus Dilemma: COVID-19 And The Flu

We typically think about getting flu shots in the fall, but pharmacies and doctors offices around the U.S. are already offering them now.
Posted at 4:45 PM, Aug 28, 2020

It might seem too early to be talking about the flu shot, but this year experts warn of a combination of two different viruses overwhelming hospitals. 

Delaney Sweet got her flu shot in August, three months earlier than usual. 

"I just think you should just do it because as soon as it starts to get cold outside, flu season is going to gear back up. COVID's going to gear back up," she told Newsy.

Some of the top U.S. doctors aren't just urging the public to get a flu shot, they're asking people to get it earlier. 

"Our hospitals and doctors' offices fill up as it is in December and January when it's cold and flu season. And having COVID-19 on top of that really runs the risk of overwhelming our health care system," American Medical Association President Dr. Susan Bailey told Newsy.

"A bad flu season can really put certain hospitals into a medical stress situation," CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said. 

The CDC says less than 50 percent of adults get the flu vaccine. They're hoping that number will be closer to 65 percent this year. The American Medical Association is recommending anyone six months and older get a flu vaccine by Halloween.

Physicians are also preparing for COVID’s impacts on flu season, too. Dr. Scott Joy at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, tells Newsy clinicians will need to be very sharp judging symptoms. While a few differ between COVID and flu, many of the symptoms, like body aches, could be either virus. 

"If it's sudden onset, high fever, we're going to think more influenza. If it's loss of taste or smell, we're going to be thinking of COVID-19," he said.

Dr. Joy says he also expects COVID to mean more televisits instead of in-person at the clinic. He’s suggested already to his patients they get at-home medical equipment in case symptoms pop up, like a thermometer, blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter. 

"So if a patient calls, their oxygen level is a little borderline, we could say, hey, we want you to keep on that overnight and let's do another televisit in the next day or two," he told Newsy.

Doctors and experts are also watching countries in the Southern Hemisphere. The flu season there has petered out, the CDC director says, because of COVID-related precautions. 

"Wearing face coverings or masks, social distancing, washing your hands, being smart about crowds. They're not specific for COVID; they're going to work for any respiratory virus," Redfield said.