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Flu vaccinations are even more important in 2020

By Grace Colville

University of Kentucky

Flu season, like everything else this year, is looking a whole lot different. The same preparation is involved, with pharmacies and doctor’s offices preparing to give vaccinations for the flu season that generally runs from October to March, but with COVID-19 added to the mix, 2020’s flu season should be taken more seriously than ever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both Influenza and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory diseases, but they are caused by different viruses. The two diseases have a wide range of similar symptoms, making it difficult for providers to discern between them without a test. With the possibility of COVID-19 hanging in the air, this year providers are urging everyone to get vaccinated for the flu.

“This is a year I think it’s important to try to get vaccinated sooner rather than later for Influenza,” said Dr. Derek Forster, medical director for Infection Prevention and Control at UK HealthCare. “We still believe a flu vaccine is one of the most important ways to prevent influenza.”

Each year in preparation for flu season, UK HealthCare implements visitation restrictions for the hospitals. This year, with restrictions already in place for COVID-19, the hospital will continue to operate under current guidelines. These restrictions include:

  • in general, one designated visitor will be allowed per non-COVID patient, with some special exceptions;
  • visitors must pass a screening before entering our facilities; and
  • visitors must always wear a mask while in our facilities.

UK HealthCare providers also are encouraging everyone to continue to participate in infection prevention, like mask-wearing, good hand hygiene and physical distancing.

“Just doing the important infection control things we’ve been doing for months, and not letting off the pedal as we move into flu season should really be our focus right now,” said Kim Blanton, director for Infection Prevention and Control at UK HealthCare.

This year, more than in past years, it is important to be aware of how the flu travels from person to person. The flu, like COVID-19, can be transmitted before any symptoms have developed. Unlike COVID-19, after a couple of days of flu symptoms, the patient is typically no longer infectious. The issue is that the symptoms are so similar, it’s difficult to know how cautious to be.

However, one important symptom providers are advising to watch for is a loss of taste or smell, Forster said. Experiencing this symptom aligns with testing positive for COVID-19, and it is important to self-isolate and get in touch with your provider if it is experienced, he said.

“I would certainly encourage anybody, if you have symptoms compatible with these things, to have a low threshold for talking to your provider, and to get tested,” said Forster.

Experiencing any symptoms of illness during this time can be frightening, so having a good relationship with your providers is key. If you do get sick, it is important not to count anything out, and seek care as soon as possible.

“The hope of keeping COVID-19 and Influenza numbers low is riding on one thing – getting vaccinated,” Forster said. “Getting a flu shot this year can keep you, and so many others around you healthy at work, school or home.”

UK HealthCare employees can receive a free flu vaccine. Check for your department’s vaccination plan or you can receive your flu shot at one of the UK Pharmacy Vaccination Clinics.

More information on opportunities for flu shots for UK students and staff will be available soon.