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Preventing the flu during COVID-19

VCU Health infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Stevens answers your questions about staying safe during the flu season.

Woman holding cup of tea and touching her neck Photo: Getty Images

For over a year you’ve been taking measures to protect yourself from COVID-19. These same measures — wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and getting vaccinated — are especially important during flu season.

Just as the COVID-19 vaccine is essential to lowering your risk of COVID-19, so, too, is the flu vaccine in lowering your risk of getting the flu.

Here, our infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Stevens answers your questions about the flu, the flu vaccine and COVID-19.

Michael Stevens, M.D.How do the flu and COVID-19 interact? What if you get both at the same time?

Although uncommon, people can have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. It isn’t clear if patients with both have worse outcomes. You are much less likely to get either COVID-19 or the flu if you’ve been vaccinated for both viruses. Even if you do get sick, if you’re vaccinated you are much less likely to get seriously ill.

How can you tell the difference between flu and COVID-19 symptoms?

Flu and COVID-19 symptoms are similar, so it’s impossible to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. If you experience flu-like symptoms, call your doctor. You might have COVID-19.  

When should you get a flu shot?

You should get the flu vaccine in October so that your body can build up protective antibodies in time for peak flu season, which usually begins in November. 

Why is the flu shot so important this year?

Since both COVID-19 and flu can cause serious illness, and you can’t tell which one you have without getting tested, reducing your risk of catching the flu is important. You can do this by getting a flu shot.

How do mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing help during flu season?

Not only do mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing help keep YOU safe from infection, it helps keep you from spreading the virus to others should you have it. 

Who should get the flu shot?

Everyone should get the flu shot, as recommended by the CDC. It is especially important for people who are older than 65 and people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or other chronic diseases.

Why do you need to get vaccinated every year?

The flu virus changes every year. Last year’s vaccine may not work against this year’s flu. A new vaccine is needed each year to help your body fight off the latest form of the flu. 

Can you get the flu even if you got the flu shot?

Yes. The vaccine is not 100% effective for preventing infection. However, even if the vaccine does not prevent infection entirely, it may reduce your risk for severe illness.

Should you get the flu shot even if you wear a mask in public?

Yes. The flu vaccine is still essential despite using a mask, as masks aren’t 100% effective in preventing infection.

Can you get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

Yes. One has no impact on the other.

Where can you get the flu shot or the COVID-19 vaccine?

To schedule your flu or COVID-19 vaccine, contact your doctor or your closest pharmacy.

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