RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Experts from VCU Health are working to combat the spread of COVID-19 while simultaneously hoping to prevent another virus from making its rounds within the community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called last season’s flu activity a ‘historical low.’ With COVID-19 still circulating, an expert with VCU Health told 8News, during September and October is the best time to get the flu vaccine for maximum protection.
Michael Stevens is an interim hospital epidemiologist at VCU Health. According to Stevens symptoms of both COVID-19 and Influenza or the flu like cough, fever and sore throat, are hard to decipher. But, you can’t tell the difference at this time.
“There’s too much overlap in symptoms and right now. If have symptoms, it’s more likely that it’s going to be COVID. But at some point we’re going to potentially have more flu in the community and it could be either. The bottom line is, if you have symptoms, you have to assume that its COVID right now,” said Stevens.
According to Stevens, you can get both viruses at the same time.
“If you have a severe case of either and it damages your lungs, if you get another viral infection, you’re probably at more risk to have complications,” said Stevens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza activity began to decline in mid to late February 2020. The CDC said the changes were due to declines in routine health seeking for respiratory illness as well as a decline in virus circulation due to increased measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Of the submitted flu specimens to laboratories in the United States, there was a 98% decrease in influenza activity. However, there was also a 61% decrease in the number of specimens submitted from September through February of 2019 to March through May of 2020.
For this flu season, Stevens said it’s hard to predict.
“Are we going to see an early and bad flu season or will we continue to not see a lot of flu because we still have some mitigation efforts in place with masking and that sort of stuff. The bottom line is we don’t know,” said Stevens.
He recommended getting both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines. Stevens said it is safe to get them at the same time. Anyone over the age of six months can receive a flu shot.