The coronavirus already poses a serious threat to healthcare systems in the United States, but with the fall approaching, doctors and health officials are warning that a bad flu season could cause even greater challenges.
Dr. Sharon Welbel of the Cook County Health System says the effects on the healthcare system could be devastating if this year’s flu season is as bad as ones in years past.
“We know that millions of people every year in the United States get influenza,” Welbel said. “Thousands of people, probably over 60,000 people last year, died of the flu.”
Now, with coronavirus cases on the rise in Illinois and many neighboring states, Welbel says the risk of some patients contracting both viruses is a very real and serious threat.
“People can get the flu and COVID at the same time, and one can imagine how incredibly ill one can become having both diseases at the same time,” Welbel said. “The other issues are diagnostic difficulties, testing difficulties, access to vaccines and so forth.”
Doctors have warned that patients exhibiting symptoms of the flu will likely have to be tested for coronavirus as well, as the two viruses do share some common symptoms.
One of the best ways to protect yourself against the flu, or to potentially ease the impact the virus can have on you, is to get a flu vaccine, and doctors are sounding the alarm this year that a flu vaccine could be more critical than ever.
“Everyone is eligible to get their flu vaccine, and you should get it every single year,” Welbel said.
Besides the flu vaccine, Welbel says there are other encouraging signs for physicians hopeful to avoid a double-whammy of surges in COVID-19 and flu cases. In Australia, where flu cases are known to generally spike before spiking in the United States, the flu season has been light so far, giving some hope that this season’s strain of the virus may not be as intense.
Scientists and doctors are also hopeful that the spread of the flu won’t be as prevalent this year due to the protective steps that individuals are already taking to avoid coronavirus, including wearing masks, social distancing, and staying home when feeling ill.
“I’m hoping that this is true, but we as individuals have to be responsible,” Welbel said. “We as individuals can make that happen by wearing our masks, social distancing and getting our flu vaccines. When COVID-19 vaccines are available, we should get vaccinated for that as well.”