While the COVID-19 virus has captured everyone’s attention and made headlines around the world, it’s still important to take precautions against another virus: influenza. In fact, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, getting a flu shot this year matters more than ever. Here’s why.
1. Influenza strains change every year.
There are more than 100 strains of the influenza virus, but only four strains can be included in the flu shot. Each year, epidemiologists track the influenza strains traveling around the world, predict which four strains are most likely to be hitting the U.S. during our flu season, and select those to be included in that year’s flu shot.
Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to take the time to get your flu shot because this year’s flu strains (and therefore flu shots) will be different from last year’s.
2. Influenza can have significant complications.
While COVID-19 has proven to be more contagious and more lethal than influenza, it’s still important to get a flu shot because even though COVID-19 poses a greater threat than the flu, the flu can still cause significant complications.
Influenza causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year. The flu shot has been shown to decrease flu deaths by 22%, and flu-related hospitalizations by 70%.
3. Influenza symptoms mimic COVID-19 symptoms.
Another reason to get a flu shot is that influenza and COVID-19 symptoms can be very similar. These symptoms include a fever, cough, body aches, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea. If you don’t get a flu shot, it makes it more difficult for clinicians to determine whether you have the flu or COVID-19. Making an accurate diagnosis is important because the treatment is different depending on which virus you have.
4. The flu shot spares your immune system.
Since influenza and COVID-19 are not related, it is possible to contract both viruses at the same time. Fighting two infections at once put added stress on your immune system and increases the risk of complications like pneumonia, respiratory distress, dehydration, sepsis, and respiratory failure. By getting a flu shot, you’ll boost your immunity against influenza, which spares your immune system from that added stress.
5. The COVID-19 pandemic overlaps with the flu season.
When COVID-19 first hit the U.S. in early 2020, scientists were hopeful that it would behave like most viruses do, which means it would die off in the warm summer months. Viruses tend to be less active in the summer because more people are outdoors and therefore transmission rates are lower. Also, most viruses replicate slower in warm temperatures.
However, this has not proven to be the case with COVID-19. Cases have actually increased over the summer months, and will likely still be increasing when the U.S. enters its flu season this fall. Getting a flu shot can offer you protection against what epidemiologists are calling the “perfect storm”: two potentially lethal viruses spreading at rapid rates around the U.S. at the same time.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant