Concerns grow as flu season nears amid COVID-19 pandemic

Concerns grow as flu season nears amid COVID-19 pandemic
Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 12:52 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Every year, the flu kills somewhere between 30-50,000 Americans. To date, COVID-19 has been linked to more than 190,000 deaths in the US.

“This is going to be an important year for us as we move forward and anticipate these two viruses circulating together.”

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Derek Forster says because they have such similar symptoms, one of their toughest battles will be distinguishing which virus patients are struggling with.

“Classically we think about symptoms of flu being fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, cough. COVID-19 mimics many of these symptoms, but I do want to highlight one of the distinguishing characteristics between the two, which would be loss of taste and smell. We see that with COVID-19, but we don’t see that with influenza,” Dr. Forster said.

While adults need to remain vigilant in fighting both viruses, pediatric specialist Dr. Sean McTigue says so far children have been mostly spared from the current pandemic.

“We have had fewer than five symptomatic patients admitted to Kentucky Children’s Hospital for symptomatic COVID-19 infections," he said. "Most of the children that we’ve had in the hospital with COVID-19 have been admitted for other things and have just been picked up as a case though our routine testing for COVID-19. Influenza is very different. Influenza in children is always going to be symptomatic. In particular young children, infants and those who are young, are at higher risk of having severe illness with influenza.”

On a brighter note, both men say there’s reason to believe the measures we’re taking to stop the spread of COVID-19 will in turn slow the spread of the flu as well.

“Long story short, I think it’s important to have a low threshold to be in contact with your provider and get tested for COVID and for flu."

Flu season doesn’t typically start until October, but experts recommend getting vaccinated in advance. Dr. Forster says locally, the vaccine is starting to become available now.

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