In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, getting a flu shot is more important than ever before.
The health and safety measures that have been adopted to help slow the spread of Covid-19 include social distancing, wearing face coverings or masks, and increased handwashing. These practices will also help slow the spread of the seasonal flu. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in fewer available hospital and ICU beds, as well as ventilators. During this fall’s flu season, as well as this winter’s, both the seasonal influenza virus and COVID-19 will be in circulation. This could cause many hospitals to face further shortages, which could affect their ability to care for people who have been infected with either illness.
During the 2018–2019 flu season, 35.5 million Americans contracted seasonal influenza. As a result, 34,200 died. While last year half of all Americans received the flu shot, the CDC estimates this prevented 4.4 million cases of flu, 58,000 hospitalizations, and 3,500 deaths. That’s equivalent to saving 10 lives per day during flu season. The flu vaccine has additional benefits for people with chronic medical conditions, like reducing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, or death among people with heart disease, and decreasing illness flares in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Is it possible to have COVID-19 and the flu?
Yes, it is possible for a person to contract COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. It is no surprise those who have both COVID-19 and influenza B become more ill than those who have COVID-19 alone[i].
Do COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms?
Yes, COVID-19 and flu have some symptoms in common. These symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, and coughs. Patients who get the flu should also be tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine until results are received.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is not 100% effective. However, it is 40% to 60% effective in most years. Another benefit of receiving the flu vaccine is that in the event you do contract the flu, you are likely to become less ill from it or experience a shorter duration of illness if you do. Therefore, vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness or death.
I had the flu shot last year. Do I need another one?
Yes, everyone should receive a flu shot annually. Influenza A and Influenza B cause most cases of flu in humans. Both strains continuously mutate enough for the immune system to be unable to recognize them. For this reason, prior infection of one strain of the flu may not necessarily protect you from other strains. It is even possible that your immune system will not recognize the same strain you had in the past if it has mutated enough.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitor the changing strains of influenza in various countries. This data is used in developing vaccines months before the flu season starts. For the 2020 flu season, the common strains are predicted to include H1N1 and H3N2.
Could the flu vaccine help protect me from Covid-19?
It’s possible. Virologist Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chairman of the Global Virus Network, says that the key is getting the correct live flu virus in the vaccine. “The vaccine has to have a live virus in it. The virus is attenuated so it doesn’t cause disease, but otherwise, the virus is alive.” These live vaccines could offer some supplementary protection.
During the vaccine development process, scientists can take several approaches. A component of the pathogen can be used to activate an immune response in a test subject. Another strategy is to kill the pathogen and its corpse then becomes the vaccine. They can also take a live pathogen and weaken it in the lab. This version is referred to as a live, attenuated vaccine. There is some evidence that live vaccines offer some protection against other diseases, including respiratory infections. However, the lifespan of this protection has not yet been determined.
Vaccines work by prompting the immune system to produce antibodies. These antibodies are very specific and are generally effective in neutralizing only one type of illness. However, scientists believe live vaccines epigenetically reprogram immune cells in the bone marrow. These are called myeloid cells. Myeloid cells differ from antibodies in that they are nonspecific and work quickly to neutralize various types of infections. Therefore, it’s possible that a live vaccine could assist the body’s immune system to expel the coronavirus before a person becomes seriously ill.
In short, whether a live flu vaccine can protect you from Covid-19 infection remains to be definitively proven. However, scientists and doctors across the globe are working hard to find out. In the meantime, avoiding the seasonal flu is nothing but an advantage, so call our office for an appointment today at 469-425-3600.
Jamie Spence | Content Manager
Seota Digital Marketing 972.737.2830