The 2020 flu season is just around the corner. Like every year, the flu will be best contained when as many people as possible get a flu vaccine, and this is especially important this year as the health system continues to grapple with the COVID-19 public health emergency.
People can contract the flu at any time during the year, but the rates of the illness increase throughout the fall and generally peak in winter. While some people who are infected with an influenza virus might have only mild symptoms, for others the virus is deadly. The flu kills thousands of people each year. The flu vaccine is available every year, but public health officials warn that too few people take advantage of it. Last year, 45% of Americans got a flu shot.
This year, flu season will hit while COVID-19 is still a major threat. Telling the two infections apart will be difficult since the symptoms are quite similar, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Both diseases can also cause a range of reactions, from mild illness to severe cases that require hospitalization and can be fatal. Only laboratory tests will be able to distinguish accurately between the two infections.
Experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other institutions worry that the combination of a bad flu season and COVID-19 could be too much for hospital systems. That’s why the flu vaccine will be more important than ever—to reduce the incidence of flu and take pressure off of a strained health care system. The CDC has contracted with vaccine manufacturers to have more doses of the vaccine available to ensure everyone who wants the flu shot can get access.
Not every person can safely get a flu shot, and everyone should consult with their health care providers before getting vaccinated. But it is important that everyone who can get vaccinated does. This reduces the risk of the individual getting sick and cuts down on transmission from person to person. Getting vaccinated protects others in the community who cannot get the flu shot.
Most people with Medicare will pay nothing for a flu vaccine, and many other sources of insurance cover the flu shot as well. Check with your health insurance provider before getting any vaccine to understand the costs.
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