Flu Season Returns as the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

09/23/2020

Johns Hopkins Medicine experts say getting an annual flu vaccination will be critical this flu season

Note: At the end of this news release, there is an infographic on flu prevention during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues with no end in sight, the annual flu season emerges once again. Cases of the flu have already begun to surface around the nation, and there are some reports of co-infection with COVID-19. Johns Hopkins Medicine experts say now is the time to take action to fight against the flu. Doctors recommend that everyone age 6 months and older get the flu vaccine each year to prevent infection from the virus or reduce the severity of the illness.

“The merging of the COVID-19 pandemic and the annual flu season this fall and winter is a cause for concern and preparation,” says Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H, senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “By ensuring all of us take necessary precautions, such as getting a flu vaccine now, we will be prepared before the peak of the flu season. This will also help reduce the amount of flu spreading, which in turn, reduces the burden on the overall health care system already dealing with COVID-19.”

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious viral respiratory illness caused by different strains of the influenza virus. It is spread through coughing, sneezing or close contact with an infected person. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but generally include coughing, congestion, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint aches and fatigue.

“Though the flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, they have similar symptoms, are highly contagious, spread in a similar manner and can affect your lungs and breathing,” says Maragakis. “Cases of the flu and COVID-19 can range from mild to serious, and both can lead to hospitalization or even death.” The World Health Organization estimates that up to 650,000 people around the world die each year from the flu. So far, nearly 1 million people have died from COVID-19.

While there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the flu vaccine is updated each year in an attempt to match virus strains predicted to predominate in the upcoming flu season. When you get the vaccine, it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies against the flu. People who are allergic to components of the vaccine should consult their physician to find a vaccine formula suitable for them.

“Many people have delayed getting routine vaccinations during the pandemic,” says Aaron Milstone, M.D., M.H.S., associate hospital epidemiologist for The Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Now is the time to get the proper vaccinations like the annual flu vaccine, so you don’t get sick or get anyone else around you sick, which could lead to unnecessary hospitalizations or deaths.”

Other ways to help guard against the flu as well as COVID-19 include properly wearing a face mask, practicing appropriate physical distancing (at least 6 feet apart), coughing into the crook of your elbow, and frequently and thoroughly washing your hands.

Flu season in the U.S. typically runs October through May, peaking sometime between December and February. Researchers are still determining whether COVID-19 has varying severity during different seasons.

flu graphic Newsroom

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