SHSU Expert Advice: Flu Season During COVID-19
Sept. 23, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney
This fall, it is important now more than ever to get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as soon as the vaccine becomes available, if possible, by October, as an important first step in protecting against the virus.
But, with the novel coronavirus raising concerns this year, should individuals change how they approach this year's flu season?
Today@Sam spoke to Dr. Candace Walkley, a doctor at SHSU Physicians Clinic and an assistant professor at the Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine regarding this upcoming flu season, COVID-19, and any misconceptions. Walkley is an expert in internal medicine, pediatrics and adult infectious diseases.
T@S: When is the best time to get a flu vaccine?
Dr. Walkley: From September to the end of October is best so 1. You avoid getting vaccinated too early and are protected through the entire season and 2. You avoid getting vaccinated too late and don’t have immunity when season starts.
T@S: What time of year is defined as “flu season?”
Dr. Walkley: “Fall and winter” is the formal definition in temperate climates, like the U.S. We see most infections in December through February, although they start earlier and can go through May. (It actually circulates year-round in tropical climates.)
T@S: What are we expecting in terms of this year’s flu season?
Dr. Walkley: We are expecting things to be confusing because we do not yet have rapid tests available for COVID-19, and we can’t tell the difference between the two viruses by looking at a patient. Recent FDA emergent approval of the antigen tests probably is going to change this some, but it will be a while before your average primary care office has these tests available for use. In terms of our expectations of flu infections, what we can say definitely is: influenza will circulate and cause infections. Whether we will have circulating strains of influenza against which we have no collective immunity is anybody’s guess. This is always a fear.
T@S: Why is it important to take flu season seriously, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dr. Walkley: Our country’s work force already has suffered significant losses in terms of decreased earnings and loss of sick time. Many businesses have been hit hard. The flu vaccination helps to keep some people from contracting a respiratory virus that would cause further loss of workdays and income. We definitely want to protect people who have recently overcome COVID-19 infection so that they are not persistently sick with sequential respiratory viruses and development of pneumonia or sinus infections—or worse. If you get a flu vaccination, you are much less likely to have severe disease from influenza or be hospitalized if you do get infected. This helps to reserve health care resources for those who are most ill.
T@S: Are there any extra precautions a person should take this flu season?
Dr. Walkley: Influenza is transmitted by respiratory droplets, same as SARS-CoV-2. Stay away from sick people. Distance from others. Wash hands frequently. Don’t go to work if you are sick. Wear masks when unable to properly distance.
T@S: Is it safe to get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dr. Walkley: Yes, absolutely.
T@S: Additional advice for flu season, vaccine and prevention?
Dr. Walkley: The flu shot is a killed virus. It never gives you “the flu.” This idea (that it causes the flu) circulates routinely and is completely false. Your arm may be a bit sore, but you do not get any kind of virus from getting the injection.
In preparation for flu season, The Student Health Center and The Office of Health Promotion at Sam Houston State University will be offering free flu shots for current SHSU students, Oct. 6-8 at 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Lowman Student Center, Orange Ballroom.
They will also be able to provide a limited number of free flu vaccines for faculty and staff at its flu shot clinics on Oct. 8 and 14, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the LSC, Orange Ballroom. In addition, employees with SHSU-provided insurance can also receive the flu shot from any in-network provider at no cost.
As a reminder, for the safety of the entire university community, anyone attending on-campus, sponsored events will be required to wear a face covering and practice social distancing.
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