Protect yourself and others by getting a flu shot

COVID-19 makes it even more vital to get your flu shot this year and doctors say the best time to get one is now.

Influenza is a seasonal virus and has several strains. The flu and COVID-19 can cause similar symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath.

While most can recover from the flu on their own, it can lead to hospitalizations and deaths, particularly among older adults, very young children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems or certain chronic conditions.

Fred Campbell, MD, an internal medicine physician and associate professor of medicine, said the same populations are vulnerable to both the flu and the coronavirus.

“People over 60, people with chronic medical conditions — heart, lung, kidney, cancer conditions, the immunocompromised [are at greater risk]. And obesity is a risk factor,” he said.

UT Health San Antonio primary care director Ramon Cancino, MD, MS, FAAFP, said the flu vaccine can reduce symptoms that might be confused with those of COVID-19. In addition, the vaccine can decrease the severity of the illness, reduce hospitalizations and save lives.

People can protect their communities by doing four things, Dr. Cancino said:

Call your primary care physician (PCP) and schedule a time to get your annual flu shot. Flu shots are safe for everyone, except a few individuals whose medical conditions make having a shot inadvisable.

Flu vaccines, including high-dose vaccines for vulnerable populations, are available at every UT Health Physicians primary care location in San Antonio and the Hill Country. Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician here. All flu shot appointments require wearing a mask and following COVID-19 safety precautions.

In addition, Wellness 360 offers flu shots for employees and students.

Tell your friends and community members. The more people who are vaccinated, the less likely it is for this contagious disease to be transmitted to others. This is called “herd immunity.” Remind friends, family and community members that, even though they may not be in one of the high-risk groups, getting vaccinated prevents them from getting the flu and transmitting it to someone else who may be more vulnerable.

Follow current recommendations regarding COVID-19. The same actions that protect us and others from COVID-19 (wearing a mask, hand-washing, social distancing) will protect us from the flu. Continue to follow guidance from medical leaders around these mitigation strategies.

Get evaluated by the appropriate person if you feel sick. Call your physician and get evaluated either in person or via telemedicine. Physicians will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health department guidance on COVID-19 and flu testing if your assessment requires it. Your symptoms can often be diagnosed and treated without a trip to the emergency room or hospital.

Last flu season, the CDC estimated that between 39 million and 56 million individuals had a flu infection and that there were between 24,000 and 62,000 flu-related deaths.

“As a team, we must recognize how playing our own small parts can contribute to grand success. Helping to increase our community’s flu shot rate by getting a flu shot and encouraging your friends to do the same can help our team. We can and must do this together because our lives and well-being depend on it,” Dr. Cancino said.

Doctors hope the same measures that reduce COVID-19 transmission, such as social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding crowds and washing hands will also reduce flu transmission.

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