Managing flu season concerns as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on

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A nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center administers a flu shot during a drive-thru clinic. To help encourage people to get vaccinated against the flu while observing current social distancing guidelines, Dartmouth-Hitchcock has adapted its traditional flu clinics into drive-thru clinics for the influenza vaccine. The clinics are open to people over the age of nine. Vaccines will be administered to people from their cars, and appointments are required.

LEBANON, NH – As the upcoming influenza season coincides with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, health officials are concerned that a surge in both viruses, along with a severe cold season, could result in what many are calling a “twin-demic” scenario. Because it is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) infectious disease experts say it is more critical than ever for people to get the flu shot to help prevent this from happening.

“As we await an effective vaccine and treatment for COVID-19, we do have access to a flu vaccine and antiviral flu treatment,” said Jose Mercado, MD, associate hospital epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “It’s critical for members of the public to get the flu shot as soon as possible. The flu shot helps prevent developing symptoms otherwise identified as COVID-19 and protects from severe illness from the flu. Fewer flu cases will also avoid overburdening the health care system while we continue battling COVID-19.”

COVID-19 and the flu are both transmitted through respiratory droplets spread by coughing and sneezing. They present similar symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, and fever or feeling feverish. However, there are some significant differences:

  • COVID-19 also presents symptoms affecting the neurological system: loss of smell and taste. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, have been observed with COVID-19. Vomiting and diarrhea are more common in children with the flu, than in adults.
  • Expected flu recovery time is about two weeks. With COVID-19, some people may develop long-term symptoms, such as blood clots, heart damage and lung damage.
  • Once someone is exposed to COVID-19, it may take two to 14 days for symptoms to appear. Symptoms of the flu present much sooner – usually one to four days after exposure.
  • People with COVID-19 are infectious for a longer period of time than those with the flu — 10 days for COVID-19, versus seven for influenza.

The same guidelines used to avoid COVID-19 are effective for flu prevention. It’s important to continue to physically distance, wear masks and frequently wash hands. Countries that have recently completed their flu seasons have reported lower flu cases due to COVID-19 safety precautions. The U.S. could have a similar experience if everyone works to stop the spread of these and other respiratory viral infections.

To help encourage people to get vaccinated against the flu while observing current social distancing guidelines, D-HH has adapted its traditional flu clinics into “drive-thru” clinics for the influenza vaccine. The clinics are open to people over the age of nine. Vaccines will be administered to people from their cars, and appointments are required. For more information, visit http://www.d-h.org/flu.

Mercado, along with Mary Evanofski, OT, MPH, vice president of operations and population health at D-HH will be presenting a free virtual community conversation on October 7, 9:30-10:30 a.m, on the importance of getting the flu vaccine, especially during the pandemic. The program will also discuss how flu clinic planning this fall will help D-HH with future COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Community members are encouraged to register at https://bit.ly/34glYG1.

“We all want life to go back to ‘normal,’ but we can’t relax now,” said Mercado. “I encourage everyone to be aware of what’s happening in their community, and follow the guidance of local public health experts. We’re all in this together.”

Hear more from Jose Mercado, MD in the latest D-HH ‘Behind The Mask’ video segment below.


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