'Twindemic': Flu season meets COVID-19, what to expect

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COLUMBIA - Flu season is coming up and health experts are warning of a possible ‘twindemic’ when the flu and COVID-19 intersect. 

The most important way to avoid a possible ‘twindemic’ is to get the flu vaccine this year, MU Health Care Infectious Disease Doctor, Christelle Ilboudo said. 

“I still really highly recommend and urge people to get the vaccine, especially this year,” Dr. Ilboudo said. “So that if they get sick, while we're trying to figure out whether it's COVID-19 or influenza; if it is the flu than they're less likely to need hospitalization, and they're less likely to develop pneumonia as a secondary complication of it.” 

Dr. Ilboudo said the best time to get the flu vaccine is late September and early October. However, if you are high risk, getting it earlier is advisable. 

One of the reasons the flu shot is so important this year is because COVID-19 and the flu have very similar symptoms. 

According to the CDC, the two viruses share the following symptoms: Fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches and headaches. Some people can also have diarrhea and vomiting, but that is more common in children than adults. 

One difference is that COVID-19 can include the loss of taste and smell. 

If you have one of those symptoms, Dr. Ilboudo encourages people to consult their primary care physician for guidance on how to proceed. 

On the possibility of a 'twindemic,' Dr. Ilboudo said we could see coronavirus cases increase this flu season if people do not properly follow safety guidelines. 

“So there's a thought that we will hit another big wave of coronavirus [cases] when we hit the season where we typically see other respiratory diseases, especially if people lax in the social distancing and the, you know ,mask wearing and those behaviors," Dr. Ilboudo said.

However, a 'twindemic' could be avoidable. There is a possibility we could experience a less severe flu season. Health experts have studied what the southern hemisphere’s flu season was like, in order to see what could play out in the United States. 

“So we base our expectations on what we see in the southern hemisphere, and the report I've heard, although I haven't seen anything official, is that Australia had a much milder flu season,” Dr. Ilboudo said.

In order to have the milder flu season, Dr. Ilboudo stressed the importance of a flu shot and following safety guidelines such as mask wearing, hand hygiene and social distancing. 

Dr. Ilboudo also said MU Health Care is working on a test that could check for flu and COVID-19 at the same time, but the timing for when that could be available is unknown. 

Places to get a flu shot in mid-Missouri: