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"Twin Pandemic": Health officials concerned with flu season starting and COVID-19

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Posted at 7:52 PM, Sep 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-14 01:54:22-04

Flu season is about to start during a pandemic, which means new territory for medical experts.

“As we approach the Fall, there is great concern for what some are calling a "twin pandemic" – COVID-19 and the flu," Santa Barbara County Public Health Department Director Van Do Reynoso said in a press conference Friday.

One of the biggest challenges ahead of the season is patients with COVID-19 often have flu-like symptoms that include: coughing, shortness of breath, and fever.

"In a normal flu season, if you get those symptoms, you can probably assume you have the flu or a cold. This year, you will be concerned if you have COVID," Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center Infection Preventionist Chris Ecker said.

Flu activity typically begins it October, but several Central Coast pharmacies have been offering the flu shot for several weeks.

San Luis Obispo resident Makayla Dubious says she plans to get a flu shot this year and feels it may help rule out the flu if she gets sick this fall.

“Any time you get the scratchy throat it’s like: "Oh my god is it a cold or is it something worse?"” Dubois said.

The flu vaccination has been around since the 1940's and Eckers says he predicts the COVID-19 vaccine to be utilized in a similar manner.

"As far as COVID, I think as long as we put it through the normal FDA approval process, that approval process has been shown to do a good job of vetting out any dangers," Eckers said.

Eckers says right now, there is no evidence that the flu vaccination could increase your risk of getting COVID-19 or worsen any symptoms.

While a vaccine for COVID-19 is still in the works, doctors say the influenza vaccine could be more important this year.

"There’s hope that maybe the flu vaccine actually helps with COVID infection," Eckers said.

The spread of both viruses is similar, but Ecker says the flu tends carry larger, wet droplets that fall to the ground quicker and don't spread as far as droplets from COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity peaks between December and February, but can last through May.

Protection from the flu shot declines over time and lasts on average for six months.

Eckers recommends getting the flu vaccine earlier rather than later this year, as it can take about two weeks for antibodies to start kicking in after getting the vaccine.