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Health leaders warn that flu shot is ever more important amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Preparing for flu season amid the pandemic, health officials warn that the flu shot is vital because of the unknown: What happens if a patient gets the flu and COVID-19 at the same time? (WWMT/Getty Images, David Greedy)

With summer coming to a close and back-to-school season underway, infectious disease experts said this year's influenza vaccine could be one of the most important yet.

Initial estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the 2019-20 flu season included somewhere between 24,000 and 62,000 deaths, and more than 410,000 hospitalizations across the country.

Dr. Richard Van Enk, the director of infection prevention at Bronson Hospital, said everyone should get the flu vaccine this year because of the unknown: What would happen if someone would get influenza paired with COVID-19.

"Can you get influenza and COVID-19 at the same time? We think you can," Van Enk said. "If a patient got the flu and COVID together, they would be very, very sick."

Van Enk said based on predictions from the southern hemisphere, it appears that the 2020 flu season could be a mild one. Van Enk said that conclusion could be accredited to COVID-19 preventative measures already in place.

"More people are staying home more, social distancing, wearing masks, and washing their hands," Vank Enk said. "We are seeing a very good response to the influenza vaccine in other parts of the world, but for here in the United States, it's just too soon to tell."

Van Enk said a big concern ahead of the 2020 flu season is that a bad year could overwhelm a health care system already dealing with the pandemic. He said both COVID-19 and influenza are highly infectious respiratory illnesses.

"We do not have COVID-19 under control in the U.S. on a national level," Van Enk said. "In certain states, like here in Michigan, it's better but not as an entire nation."

Van Enk said it is important for people to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible.

"Get your influenza shot, and get it now, " Van Enk said. "If we can stop the influenza outbreak before it starts we are in good shape.”

Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu, from the CDC:

  1. Avoid close contact, particularly with those who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  2. Stay home when you are sick, and keep your distance from others. So, no work, no school, and no errands.
  3. Cover your mouth and nose, and use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu and other respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and COVID-19, are spread by droplets sent into the air by coughing and sneezing.
  4. Clean your hands. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  6. Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

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