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Health

Influenza vaccination takes on extra importance this fall and winter
Similarities to COVID-19 can be confusing
 
Published Sunday, October 11, 2020 8:35 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

STOCK PHOTO
Flu season takes on extra urgency for vaccinations with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating.

The flu is a force every year, but with its symptoms overlapping with COVID-19’s it’s best to prepare now.


Influenza season, more commonly known as the flu, begins in December and runs through April, typically peaking in January. Each year, 3-11% of Americans are infected, which can result in hospitalization or even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35.5 million people had the flu during the 2018-19 season, with 16.5 million seeking medical care, 490,600 hospitalized and 34,200 deaths.


Dr. James Reed of Novant Health Primary Care Mint Hill explains that the best tools for dealing with the flu are vaccination and physical distancing, frequent handwashing and avoiding those who are sick. He recommends getting a flu shot annually for prevention well before December. The vaccine takes two weeks to maximize its effects to fight off the disease. Waiting until you feel something coming on is too late.


Similar symptoms between the flu and COVID-19 include fever, headache, fatigue and muscle ache. However, COVID-19 also includes a loss of taste and smell. COVID-19 may also cause a rash.


“There’s a huge overlap in the symptoms,” Reed said.


While treatment for COVID-19 has improved over the last several months, it is 10 times more deadly than influenza.


“It has to be taken very seriously in terms of taking the precautions of wearing masks, avoiding social situations and washing your hands often,” Reed said.
Reed advises patients to get the flu shot, even if they do not like them or are afraid.


“They have to understand that this shot is something that has been tested and has been proven,” he said. “It is safe. It works to varying degrees. That’s the one knock is that it is not 100 percent. Very few things are, but it will reduce the odds of you getting the flu and it will also reduce the severity of the illness if you do get the flu. It certainly makes sense for anyone over a 6-month old who does not have any major [issues] to get the flu shot.”


The vaccine is updated annually due to the ever evolving virus itself.


“It is a virus that has different antigens and those antigens vary,” Reed said. “Unfortunately, it presents itself basically in a new form, in which cases some people won’t have immunity. There’s also a shift that can happen, and that shift happened in 1918 and we actually had a pandemic from influenza. In 2009 there was an H1N1 shift, and a lot more people got sick with more severity. Usually it’s a year-to-year thing, and that’s why the disease preparation for this takes the whole year.”

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