Making Sense of Influenza and COVID-19 This Year

During this time of year in the northern hemisphere, influenza and COVID-19 are in full effect. As the season is hitting or near its peak, the general public will once again need to be aware of the viruses and will want to find strategies to avoid them.

Anecdotally, people are saying the current COVID-19 variant is not as significant or severe as previous strains. However, there is great variability in what the experience of being sick is depending on people’s ages, existing comorbidities, and overall health profile. So, COVID-19 can look different to different people. Whereas, a young person who is in good health may see symptoms that mirror a cold; but a middle-aged person or a senior might see more severe symptoms that feel like influenza.

Still, this does not downplay the need for preventative care for everyone, especially in the form of vaccines, explained Robert H. Hopkins Jr, MD, medical director, NFID; professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and chief, Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“For those who still haven’t gotten their COVID-19 [vaccine], their influenza vaccine, and those eligible to get RSV vaccination, please do that. It is not too late,” Hopkins said. “It does take a little time for you to develop vaccine protection. But, I would encourage people to get that done because we don’t have a good way of predicting, even if you’ve had COVID-19 or flu earlier in the season, that you’re not going to get it again.”

Additionally, Hopkins discusses hygiene and risk mitigation as nonspecific interventions for prevention. These are things we may be aware of in some capacity but serve as good reminders.

“Washing your hands is important. Second, if you’re going to be out in in crowded situations, I would encourage people to wear a mask…a mask is not perfect, but if you’re wearing a mask over your nose and mouth, you’re reducing the number of particulates,” stated Hopkins.

He also reminds people to cough and sneeze into the sleeves of their shirts as opposed to their hands. This can prevent transmission of germs. And lastly, Hopkins talks about going out into crowds.

“If you have an opportunity to get out in a crowded setting, think a little bit about what your risk tolerance is for that setting. If you’re somebody that’s immune compromised, if you have significant health conditions, maybe this is not the time to be going to a concert, or to a basketball game, or to a crowded event where we may be more likely to catch one of these illnesses.

For those who might be vaccine averse, and do not like the idea of getting 2 vaccines at the start of every seasonal virus year, there are influenza/COVID-19 combination vaccines in development. Moderna has previously stated it was targeting a potential regulatory approval for their combination vaccine in 2025.

Contagion spoke to Hopkins who offered some insights on this year’s COVID and influenza seasons, combination vaccines, and isolation considerations for those who have the flu or COVID-19.

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