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Preventing the flu during COVID-19

VCU Health infectious disease expert Gonzalo Bearman answers your questions about staying safe from COVID-19 and the flu.

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For the last several months we’ve been taking measures to protect ourselves from COVID-19. But the threat of the pandemic will become more complex as this year’s flu season approaches.

While the effect that flu season will have on the pandemic is unknown, we do know that wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and getting the flu vaccine will be more important than ever to stay safe as the COVID-19 pandemic meets peak flu season.

The flu vaccine is one of the most effective ways to decrease your risk of getting the flu. In fact, every employee you interact with at VCU Health System will have gotten a flu shot.

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

How do the flu and COVID-19 interact? What if you get both at the same time?

Although uncommon, reports exist of a person having both influenza (the flu) and COVID-19. It is not clear at this time if patients with both COVID-19 and the flu have worse health outcomes. 

How do 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, see 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?

As we are dealing with a never-before-seen infection, COVID-19, decreasing your risk of other viral infections is important. The flu shot safely decreases your risk of the flu. Even though it’s not a 100% decrease, it’s still beneficial. 

Will mask wearing, handwashing and social distancing help prevent the spread of the flu?

This will most certainly decrease the risk of spreading the flu.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

Everyone should get the flu vaccine, 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. The vaccine is available as a shot or a nasal spray – which has the same effectiveness as the injectable vaccine.

Why do I 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 new form of the flu. 

Can I get the flu even if I get the shot?

Yes. The vaccine is not 100% effective for preventing infection.

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

Yes. The flu vaccine is still required despite using a mask as they are not 100% effective in preventing infection.