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Flu shots are more important than ever this year

FILE PHOTO: Simone Groper receives a flu shot at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It comes every year like clockwork: fevers, chills, muscle aches and myriad other respiratory symptoms.

But is it the flu or the coronavirus?

Dr. William Hathaway, chief medical officer for Mission Health in Asheville, North Carolina, said it will be hard for people at home to tell the difference.

One of the challenges we have are the symptoms of flu and COVID are overlapping, in many cases very similar," Hathaway said.

And with flu season a month or two away, health care professionals have a big worry.

We have a great concern that people could get infected by both COVID and influenza, and even worse, they could get infected simultaneously," Hathaway said.

While a COVID vaccine is in the works, the flu vaccine is readily available.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot beginning in September.

Dr. Lisa Reed of MAHEC Family Health Center in Asheville calls it service to yourself and the community.

This year, not knowing how complex the world is really going to be, but with just a lot of fear about expanding and not being able to have enough resources in the health care system, I think that everyone who gets the flu shot is doing a kindness to the world around them," Reed said.

Seeing that we have a heightened awareness of wearing a mask, washing hands, keeping our distance, is it possible that we won't see flu as rampant this year as seasons prior because of these social distancing practices?

Hathaway said that too is a possibility

It's a silver lining around a big, fat, dark cloud, there's no doubt about that. If we adhere to those three Ws we may see a lower incidence overall," Hathaway said. (The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says the three Ws are wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart, and wash your hands.)
Speculation aside, the flu shot is a clear-cut way to limit transmission of the flu.
If you ever thought about not getting it, now is the year to not think about that. Now is the year to get your vaccination," Reed said.

Health experts say a flu vaccine boosts the immune system's ability to fight off the flu. It will not protect against the coronavirus.