EVERETT — Last year was the flu season that wasn’t.
This year, good question.
“You’re asking me to look into a crystal ball. No one really knows what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, infectious disease specialist at The Everett Clinic.
A so-called “twindemic,” a bad flu season combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t happen in the 2020-21 session.
The social contact that helps spread influenza was minimal. Schools were remote, large gatherings were banned, stores were at reduced capacity. People masked up.
“Influenza just rapidly disappeared in March 2020 when COVID came to town,” Tu said. “Last year we had barely a ripple. COVID completely dominated the landscape.”
There were no flu deaths in Washington state reported for the 2020-21 season, which ran fall through spring. In the 2019-20 season, 11 people died from the flu in Snohomish County and 114 in the state.
Most were seniors with underlying medical conditions. Flu and COVID are both especially dangerous for those with chronic health issues and seniors.
Young kids can’t get COVID shots, but they can get flu shots.
The “flu shot” signs that greet us at supermarkets and drugstores are a reminder of the menacing virus upstaged by COVID-19.
Tu advises everyone eligible to get a flu shot, but hold off a few weeks.
“Everybody 6 months and older should get a flu shot starting Oct. 1 or late September,” he said. “The flu shot gives you a boost in your immunity, but then it declines every month thereafter.”
Waiting a bit keeps you charged up during peak season in the winter months.
“Influenza looks clinically very much like COVID,” Tu said. “Both give fevers, body aches, chills, headaches and a cough. The difference is COVID is about 10 times more deadly than the flu.”
Tests can determine whether it is flu or coronavirus. People can get both viruses at the same time.
Both are spread by droplets made when people cough, sneeze, talk or sing. But they are caused by different viruses.
Sure, it helps that hand washing, long preached to prevent the spread of flu, is now a way of life and that hand sanitizer is everywhere.
Now is not the time to let your guard down.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccines protect against four different strains. Those 65 and older get an enhanced flu vaccine.
While not 100% protection, the shots reduce the illness severity and the risk of flu-related deaths. The CDC says that flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time.
Tu said flu shots decrease the pressures on the medical systems in the middle of winter.
“If we have flu mixed in with COVID, that is going to put an incredible strain on the hospital systems,” Tu said. “Your ability to access it for routine stuff, whether it’s treatment of cancer, heart attack, gallbladder, appendicitis, is going to be negatively impacted.”