“More Important Than Ever” Memorial Hermann infectious disease experts say getting flu shot is critical this year

by: George Kovacik

Covid-19 has been with us since March and it doesn’t appear like it wants to leave anytime soon. I’m sure we would all happily buy it a one-way plane ticket into the abyss if we could, but as we know, life is not that simple. The fact is that it will probably be with us throughout the upcoming 2020-2021 flu season, which, if we’re not careful, could cause a whole host of problems. This is why infectious disease experts with Memorial Hermann say this year, more than any other year, it’s extremely important that everyone receive a flu shot.

“Flu season usually begins in October, peaks in December through February, and can extend as far as May,” said John Butler, M.D., medical director of epidemiology at Memorial Hermann. “What we do not need is a significant flu outbreak on top of a pandemic. If this happens, health systems all over the Greater Houston area and the rest of the country will be overwhelmed, more so than at any time during the current COVID-19 crisis.”

Keep in mind, it takes a couple of weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect, so it’s important that everyone receive their flu shot as soon as possible before flu activity begins to pick up in early October.

“This is usually the time we begin to see the spread of the influenza virus in the community,” Butler said. “If a person receives a shot early on they should have no problem being protected throughout the flu season.”

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive a flu shot every year. Keep in mind, very young children might need to receive two shots because they receive a reduced dose each time. People over age 65, pregnant women, people with cancer, diabetes or others with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk of contracting the flu.

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever/Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

There is a myth that receiving a flu shot might actually give someone the flu. Butler says this is not possible because the vaccine does not contain a live virus. It’s also important to remember that the flu vaccine will not provide protection against COVID-19.

“This is why it is important for everyone to continue wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing as well as good hand hygiene until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed,” said Butler. “These practices will not only help with the spread of COVID-19, but also the flu.”

Experts believe it will be very hard to distinguish between the flu and COVID-19 this winter. Butler says getting a flu shot will give doctors a better chance of distinguishing between the two.  

“This will be a very challenging fall and winter for all of us. I encourage everyone to get a flu shot. It’s truly your best defense against contracting the flu and spreading it to others,” Butler said.

Memorial Hermann primary care and pediatric clinics have flu vaccines available for patients today.

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