WINCHESTER — With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of slowing down and influenza season just around the corner, health experts are worried about a “twindemic."
That's why they say that getting a flu shot may be more important than ever this year.
“One of the reasons I would recommend the flu shot sooner rather than later is if somebody is elderly or of weak constitution, either of those could be fatal,” Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene said Tuesday. “To get both of them at the same time, which is possible, that would be horrible. You don’t want to get sick with the flu and sick with COVID, either at the same time or one right after the other. Either one of those would be very bad.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people make plans to get the influenza vaccine in September or October.
According to the CDC, manufacturers have projected they will provide as many as 194 million to 198 million doses of vaccine for the 2020-21 flu season, which is more than the 175 million record set during the 2019-2020 flu season.
“The past couple of years we had recommended waiting until October [to get your flu shot], so getting it before Halloween essentially,” Greene said. “And the reason for that is the shot can wane after six or seven months and you don’t want to run out of immunity before the flu season is over. But, this year, beginning in September is generally what’s been recommended by a number of sources to avoid that opportunity to get both diseases at once or one right after the other.”
Greene said ways to stop the spread of the flu are similar to methods used to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Wear your mask, watch your distance, wash your hands,” Greene said. “You should practice those for COVID and they will reduce your risk of getting the flu as well because the two diseases are spread the same way. And if someone gets really bad symptoms all at once, like they get a high fever and they feel horrible and start coughing and it happens within 24 hours, that’s probably more likely to be the flu than COVID. But in either case, that should be a reason for them to call their health care provider right away. There are some treatments for flu that can shorten the course of it.”
Greene said that while the Lord Fairfax Health District ranks among the lowest-incidence areas for new COVID cases in Virginia, area residents should be wary of the threat of the flu.
Like COVID, influenza is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. The CDC states that people with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets when infected people cough, sneeze or talk.
Signs and symptoms of the flu include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. The CDC says the best method of prevention is to get a flu vaccine.
The flu can be deadly to the elderly, those with chronic diseases and the very young. The CDC estimates that from Oct. 1, 2019, through April 4 there were 39 million to 56 million flu illnesses and 24,000 to 62,000 deaths.
People can arrange to get their flu shot from their local health care provider or they can get it from the health department. The Lord Fairfax Health District is offering flu vaccinations to those over 6 months of age Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m, according to Lord Fairfax Health District Nurse Manager Leea Shirley. The shots are being administered outdoors as a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those receiving them are asked to observe proper masking and social distancing at all times. No appointment is necessary.
Shirley said the health district will either bill insurance or charge a $30 flat fee for the shots. Most health insurance plans cover flu shots for free.
The health district is offering flu shots at the following locations:
- Winchester/Frederick County Health Department —10 Baker St., Winchester
- Clarke County Health Department — 100 North Buckmarsh St., Berryville
- Page County Health Department — 75 Court Lane, Luray
- Shenandoah County Health Department — 494 N. Main St., #100 Woodstock
- Warren County Health Department — 465 West 15th St., Front Royal
Most pharmacies also offer flu shots.