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What You Need to Know About the Seasonal Flu This Year

It’s hard to believe that fall is almost upon us and with it comes cooler weather, changing scenery, and, yes, cold and flu season.

While seasonal influenza is always a serious health concern for our community, COVID-19 has definitely complicated things further. But we’re here to make sure you’re armed with the information you need to keep your family and yourself safe. Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming flu season.

The Symptoms for the Flu and COVID-19

In the months ahead, one of the most difficult tasks for individuals and medical professionals alike will be in identifying the seasonal flu versus COVID-19. Although testing can provide the answers needed, both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 impact the respiratory system in relatively similar ways. That doesn’t mean that the flu is as dangerous as COVID-19, but it can make it difficult to know which one a person has.

Here are a few of the most common symptoms that the flu and COVID-19 are known to share:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain and/or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common among children than adults)

New COVID-19 symptoms have been discovered since the pandemic emerged, and there’s always a chance that more symptoms will be identified; however, the following symptoms have been tied to potentially life-threatening cases of COVID-19:

  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Delirium (confusion)
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek emergency care immediately, and be sure to let the emergency medical provider know that it may be related to COVID-19.

The Flu Vaccine Has Multiple Benefits

One of the biggest benefits of getting the flu vaccine every year is that you significantly reduce the risk of getting sick from the seasonal flu. That means you’re less likely to have to miss work, spend time visiting the doctor, pay for treatments, etc.

In addition to protecting yourself from the flu, you’re also able to protect others around you who may be unable to get vaccinated (e.g., those with certain health conditions who can’t get the vaccine). And because young children, older adults, and people with existing medical conditions are the most vulnerable to the flu, you could just end up saving someone’s life.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that getting vaccinated for the seasonal flu doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick. This is because there are several strains of the flu virus that emerge every year that aren’t always covered with the seasonal vaccine. The good news is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that this year’s vaccine has been updated to better match strains expected to be circulating in our country. But even if you do get sick, the vaccination has been shown to reduce the length and severity of seasonal flu symptoms, so there’s benefit beyond its preventive characteristics.

If You Want a Seasonal Flu Vaccine, You’ll Be Able to Get One

As COVID-19 progressed in the United States, there was some concern that it would disrupt the production of this year’s seasonal flu vaccine. Fortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The CDC has reported manufacturers will be ready to provide nearly 200 million doses of the vaccine. This would far exceed the 175 million dose record set during last year’s flu season. Moreover, there’s no indication that the ongoing pandemic has changed the timeline for these vaccines, and distribution has already begun.

What this means is that if you’re able to get vaccinated and opt to do so, you shouldn’t have any concerns about its availability. Vaccines are recommended for everyone over the age of six months who don’t have any conditions that would prevent them from getting vaccinated.

Charles County residents can receive the seasonal flu vaccine from a variety of locations — click here for details. And if you’re concerned about being able to afford the seasonal flu vaccine, the Charles County Department of Health offers a wide variety of immunizations, including the seasonal flu vaccine, to adults at little or no cost. To learn more, you can call its team directly at (301) 609-6900. As always, talk to your primary care physician or a trusted medical professional if you have any questions or concerns.

Early Vaccination Isn’t Necessary — Just Get Your Flu Shot in the Next Couple of Months

As COVID-19 continued to spread in our country throughout the summer, there was some speculation about needing to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu earlier than usual — as early as July or August.

The CDC has reiterated its seasonal flu vaccine timetable for 2020 and indicated that September or October are good times to get vaccinated. Just remember, the seasonal flu often circulates all the way until April, so even if you don’t get vaccinated by October, it’s not too late!

Getting Vaccinated Could Help Your Medical System Cope with Increased Patient Volume

As we discussed in a recent blog post, the most recent flu season was accountable for upwards of 740,000 hospitalizations. That’s not an insignificant number by any means. And while the medical system is generally equipped to handle patient volumes during the peak of flu season, there is real concern that flu hospitalizations paired with COVID-19 hospitalizations could overwhelm some hospitals.

By making the choice to get vaccinated this flu season, you could be doing your community a service by preventing an illness that could otherwise compel you to visit urgent care or the emergency room. 

What to Do if You Get Sick

In general, most people who get sick with the flu don’t develop severe enough symptoms to warrant a trip to the emergency room or even to receive antiviral drugs. But if you get sick and you’re worried about your symptoms or you have a medical condition that puts you at greater risk, talk to your doctor about next steps.

Check out this video from the CDC for what you should do if you get the flu:

There are some symptoms you’ll want to be on the lookout for, however, as they may indicate a medical emergency. If you’re sick and you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical care immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
  • Seizures
  • Not urinating
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness
  • Fever or cough that improves but then returns or worsens
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

To learn more about the seasonal flu, the flu vaccine, treatment options, and more, visit the official CDC website.

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