Presence of the coronavirus makes it more important than ever to get an influenza vaccination, Kentucky medical experts say

Advisory from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine

By Grace Colville
University of Kentucky

Flu season, like everything else this year, is looking a whole lot different. The same preparation is involved, with pharmacies and doctor’s offices preparing to give influenza vaccinations for the season that generally runs from October to March, but with covid-19 added to the mix, 2020’s flu season should be taken more seriously than ever.

Influenza and covid-19 are contagious respiratory diseases, but they are caused by different viruses. The two diseases have a wide range of similar symptoms, making it difficult for providers to discern between them without a test. With the possibility of covid-19 hanging in the air, this year providers are urging everyone to get vaccinated for the flu.

“This is a year I think it’s important to try to get vaccinated sooner rather than later for influenza,” said Dr. Derek Forster, medical director for infection prevention and control at UK HealthCare. “We still believe a flu vaccine is one of the most important ways to prevent influenza.”

UK HealthCare providers also are encouraging everyone to continue to participate in infection prevention, like mask-wearing, good hand hygiene and physical distancing.

“Just doing the important infection-control things we’ve been doing for months, and not letting off the pedal as we move into flu season, should really be our focus right now,” said UK Infection Prevention and Control Director Kim Blanton.

The flu and covid-19, can both be transmitted by people who have no symptoms. Unlike covid-19, after a couple of days of flu symptoms, the patient is typically no longer infectious, but the symptoms are so similar, it’s difficult to know how cautious to be.

One important covid-19 symptom providers advise to watch for is a loss of taste or smell. If you do, Forster said, self-isolate and get in touch with your health-care provider.

“I would certainly encourage anybody, if you have symptoms compatible with these things, to have a low threshold for talking to your provider, and to get tested,” he said.

Experiencing any symptoms of illness during this time can be frightening, so having a good relationship with your providers is key. If you do get sick, it is important not to count anything out, and seek care as soon as possible.

“The hope of keeping covid-19 and influenza numbers low is riding on one thing – getting vaccinated,” Forster said. “Getting a flu shot this year can keep you, and so many others around you healthy at work, school or home.”

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