Health experts from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are warning of a flu and coronavirus “twin-demic,” and they are urging people to get their flu shots so as not to overwhelm an already stretched-out health care system.
“Flu, itself, is a significant public health burden on the system every year,” virologist and professor Dr. Andrew Pekosz said during a news briefing Tuesday. Pekosz is also the vice chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, and he is an expert on the biology of influenza.
He was joined by Dr. Daniel Salmon, professor and director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety, who echoed how important it is to get the flu vaccine, which is available to most.
Salmon said that if a COVID-19 vaccine does become available this year, it is very likely that most of the population may not have access to it immediately.
“But flu vaccine is available to everyone,” he said.
The flu and COVID-19 are similar in how they present, which could challenge coronavirus testing limits, as those with influenza may think they have COVID-19 and vice versa. Both also have a similar high-risk group, including the elderly and those with cardiovascular disease, Pekosz said.
Pekosz advised those who are unsure which one they have to seek medical help to get a COVID-19 test, especially if they are experiencing shortness of breath or feeling very weak.
“Contact your doctor and have them guide you with your symptoms,” Pekosz said. Try not to go directly to the doctor’s office without making an appointment first, so they can establish control measures.
And also, “don’t wait too long,” Pekosz said.
Is it possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
Pekosz said there has not been a large number of co-infection, and he has seen a dramatic drop in flu cases that can probably be attributed to public health interventions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some countries in the Southern Hemisphere where winter is ending — South Africa, Australia and Argentina — saw a decrease in flu cases, due to steps taken to prevent COVID-19, The Associated Press reported.
But Pekosz said the Southern Hemisphere also had very good implementation of measures to prevent coronavirus infection. So, while it’s good to get a flu shot, you should also still practice social distancing, Pekosz said.
Salmon is also calling for clear and consistent messaging at the national level that would help people protect themselves and others from the flu.
“Health providers should speak to value of the flu vaccine,” Salmon said.
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