Doctors urge people to get flu vaccine as coronavirus pandemic carries on

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Doctors say it's even more important that people get the flu vaccine as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout communities.

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Health professionals say it could minimize your risk of dealing with both the flu and COVID-19 and help keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

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"I know we all know the flu vaccine is not perfect, but it's still absolutely universally recommended and it does have an important impact, not only on an individual level, but a public health level to reduce the risk of overwhelming the hospital system with the flu," said Dr. Stacey Rose, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Rose hopes tools for detecting both illnesses rapidly could help doctors treat patients more effectively since symptoms are similar.

"If a patient is admitted and they have severe COVID-19 and perhaps they're also infected with influenza, that might give a doctor or other health care provider kind of pause when considering the treatment options," Rose said. "So you might try to direct treatment at one or both or if it's something like steroids, you might have to think about what is the risk benefit ratio of giving it, in this case, if I don't really know how it would affect the flu versus COVID-19."

With no official treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, doctors urge people to continue social distancing, wash their hands, and stay home if sick.

"I think it's also important to remember that the persons who are at risk of severe infection with influenza, it's a very similar list to those who are at severe risk of complications of COVID-19," she said. "If you have an underlying immune problem, if you have diabetes, certain influenza strains have been associated with worse outcomes in diabetics. If you're elderly, if you have asthma, and underlying lung conditions, those things are going to put you at higher risk of complication."

Experts recommend you get your flu shot in September or October. It generally takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.

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