Fall has arrived in Naperville, and that means flu season is here. With the COVID-19 pandemic complicating the otherwise routine seasonal illness, Edward Hospital Medical Director of Infection Control Dr. Jonathan Pinsky has a few tips to stay safe and healthy.
Last year’s flu season was “remarkably quiet,” likely due to COVID-19 mitigation measures like distancing, masks, and hand washing, Pinsky said.
Because numbers were so low last year, more people will be susceptible to this year’s flu. The best way to ensure protection from influenza is to get the flu vaccine.
This year’s vaccine is based on what circulated last season and contains four strains of the disease: two of influenza A and two of influenza B.
There is potential for a mutation to occur in the influenza virus each year, and “If there is a strain that doesn’t match, then the vaccine may not provide as good protection,” Pinsky said.
Generally, if a flu vaccine is a good match for the currently circulating strains, it is about 60 to 70% effective. It may be significantly less effective against mutated strains.
Pinsky said he can’t yet say for certain what this year’s flu season or the vaccine’s effectiveness will be like, but “you can predict that if we continue to wear masks and distance, and do all the same precautions that were working so well for COVID, we would hope that influenza will also be quiet again this year.”
Flu season could come any time between October and April. Pinsky suggested people get their flu vaccines in late fall, to ensure high levels of antibodies throughout the flu season.
Flu Season and COVID-19
While Pinsky stressed the importance of the flu vaccine, he also said COVID-19 holds the bigger threat.
“Please get vaccinated for COVID if you haven’t,” he said. “COVID is not going away, and so even if you’ve been safe for all this time and you haven’t gotten sick yet, COVID is still out there. And by getting vaccinated, you can protect yourself for durable protection throughout the influenza season.”
There is no way to distinguish symptoms of influenza and COVID-19. “If you get symptoms, first thing is, go get a test for COVID, and then go from there. Contact your physician and see what other recommendations they have for you,” Pinsky said.
Lastly, Pinsky said people should check if they are eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot.
People who received a second shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago and are included in a list of high-risk groups are eligible for a third shot, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine boosters are not yet available to the same groups.
Pinsky said people can get a COVID-19 booster shot and influenza vaccine on the same day or different days, with no need to space them out.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Flanagan reports.
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