With the summer weather at its final stages, fall and winter are fast approaching, which means that the flu season is on its way, too. Like almost any aspect of our lives, this year’s flu season will be different and will bring with it concerns we did not face in past years. At this point, we’re well aware the coronavirus pandemic is here to stay for the upcoming months, so we’ll be dealing with Covid-19 alongside the other viruses and bacteria that appear in the colder half of the year.
So what will the flu season combined with the risk of Covid-19 look like, how will it be different than past years' flu seasons and what can we do to prepare? These are the predictions and tips from health experts.
1. Flu infection rates might go down
We’ve all become well trained in health safety measures during the pandemic. Social distancing, washing your hands, and wearing a mask - all of these do make a difference even beyond the coronavirus. “Data from countries which would normally experience the flu season earlier (countries in the southern hemisphere) are seeing record low rates of the flu,” internal medicine physician Kavita Patel told Huffington Post.
People are already aware of the importance of these precautions so it is possible we’ll see similarly low rates of flu infection if we continue to abide by them.
2. People may be reluctant to get vaccinated against the flu
Because of the looming risk of Covid-19, many people who would otherwise proactively get vaccinated against the flu will be reluctant to do so this time in order to avoid crowded medical centers. This may put certain groups at higher risk of getting infected with the flu.
People over the age of 65 and toddlers under 2 are highly susceptible to catching and developing a severe form of the flu, and lower vaccination rates will increase the vulnerability of these groups.
Related: This Is What May Happen When A COVID Vaccine Is Approved
3. Anxiety is likely to stay around
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a large increase in mental health problems during the pandemic, which isn’t surprising. Experts predict this issue will continue and even spread further during the winter months when there will be fewer social options, and it will be more difficult to hold small gatherings outside in the open air. The added stress of another illness circulating will contribute to the general feeling of anxiety.
4. Covid-19 and flu symptoms will often be confused
Many Covid-19 symptoms overlap those of the flu, including fever, chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, muscle pain, and a sore throat. Many people who experience these symptoms, and otherwise would have written them off as a common cold, are more likely to see a physician now, to eliminate the possibility that they are Covid-19 positive.
Experts note that one major differentiator between the flu and many COVID-19 cases is the loss of taste and smell. For more information on how to tell the illnesses apart, take a look at our previous article Covid-19 or the Flu: How to Tell the Difference. Of course, you should never hesitate to reach out to a health care provider when you're sick, whether it's COVID-19, the flu, or the common cold.
5. Businesses and travel will be affected again
Over the summer, we’ve been able to return some level of normalcy in our lives, by eating at socially distanced restaurants, beaches, and more. This form of outdoor entertainment is rarer in the winter, as mentioned above. This may lead to more indoor gatherings, where people will be in closer contact, which could increase transmission rates of both Covid-19 and the flu.
While we don’t know how things will play out yet, this danger raises the chance we’ll see more restaurants closing down, travel restrictions, and more precautions for businesses in general.
Related: Shopping during COVID-19: 7 Signs a Store Is Not Sanitized Properly
6. Hospitals can get crowded again
The fact that precautions such as masks are effective could put people in a lax mindset, where they feel too secure and throw those precautions to the wind. Moreover, before the cold and flu season, we’d already spend the majority of the year in a pandemic, which can lead to some serious fatigue. Carelessness during a pandemic and flu season could lead to a sharp increase in patients and overwhelmed hospitals very quickly.
How to stay safe during this flu season
In order to minimize the probability of the more dire scenarios, there are a number of things you could do to stay as healthy and safe as possible.
1. Get your flu shots - Getting a flu vaccination is important every year, but especially this year. The vaccine will not only protect you from illness but will also help those who are in the risk group for both illnesses and those who may not be able to medically receive the vaccine.
“Simply put, get your flu shot and tell your family and friends and neighbors to get one,” Patel said. “Pharmacies can give them. Chances are your employer might also offer them. Get them, get them, get them.”
2. Be aware of your personal risk level for both illnesses - both the flu and Covid-19 can be dangerous for immunocompromised individuals and those in high-risk environments.
“Schedule your physical examinations and your flu shots, and while you are there, talk to your doctor about your medical conditions to understand and begin reducing your vulnerability” is the advice of internal medicine specialist Cara Pensabene.
3. Continue doing what you do now - you already know the drill. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay 6 feet apart. This is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from catching or spreading Covid -19 and other viruses.
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