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The 2021 flu season: Conversations with GBMC experts

Preparing for the 2021 flu season
Posted: 12:31 PM, Oct 12, 2021
Updated: 2021-10-13 19:22:21-04
Flu sick

WMAR is teaming up with GBMC to answer your questions about the 2021 flu season. Here is a bit of our Q&A with doctors from GBMC.

It seems like every year the advice is to get the flu shot, would you say it's more important this year?
"I think anything that can keep you out of urgent care and keep you out of emergency rooms is important. Flu is its own problem. It's not nearly as much of a problem, even historically, as what COVID-19 has been but it can be a severe problem when we can see 20,000 or even more deaths in any given year. So that's nothing to sniffle at, if you pardon me saying so." Dr. Theordore Bailey MD, JD, MA, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at GBMC

Day of Answers- Flu

It seems like all the precautions taken, handwashing and mask wearing, cut down on the flu last year. Are you concerned the flu could make a comeback?
"Absolutely, there's less masking, people are intermingling more. Children are back in school and school has traditionally been breeding ground for the flu and children are actually the biggest spreaders of the flu. Because we had a lite season this year we are all bracing for a heavy season this year." Theresa T. Nguyen, MD, assistant chairman of pediatrics at GBMC and a pediatrician with GBMC Health Partners – Pediatrics

What would you say to those who think, since they got the COVID-19 vaccine, they don't need the flu shot?
It's important to get both. The flu is definitely something hitting us every year. It's a major cause of hospitalizations and deaths in the immuno-compromised populations as well as pediatric and the elderly. It's always important to get your annual flu vaccine. Especially with COVID illness going around, it's more important because flu and COVID can present with similar types of symptoms: fever, body aches and a cough. Priya S. Little, MD, a family medicine physician with GBMC Health Partners Primary Care at  Jonestown

Can you get the flu from the flu shot?
The flu vaccine is not an activated vaccine so there's no live flu virus that's injected, so you cannot get the flu from getting the flu vaccine. Usually that feeling, of feeling bad after getting a vaccine, is your body's immune system responding to the vaccine actually creating the antibodies against the flu." Priya S. Little, MD, a family medicine physician with GBMC Health Partners Primary Care at  Jonestown

Can you get that COVID booster shot at the same time as you get a flu shot?
"There doesn't seem to be any safety signals with co-vaccinations. In the early stages of the vaccination process, because we didn't know anything about it, there was a deliberate effort to avoid taking vaccines at the same time so that we wouldn't be confused and wonder was it because of the other vaccine or was it because of the COVID vaccine, was it because of the combination, but now that we have all this information we have not seen a safety signal that would require us to keep them separate." Dr. Theordore Bailey MD, JD, MA, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at GBMC

So if I get the vaccine can I still get the flu?
"So a few concepts to unpack from that question certainly you can see breakthrough infections with the COVID vaccine and that just speaks to no vaccine, for no particular infection is 100% protective but that's true for protective devices of all kinds: seatbelts, radars, what have you. It's not that they elminate all risks it's that they reduce risk in an important way. Part of the reason that there is breakthrough at a greater rate than what we see in COVID 19 is because the virus itself is capable of mutating much more aggressively, so it changes more over the course of the season." Dr. Theordore Bailey MD, JD, MA, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at GBMC

How can people differentiate between coronavirus and the flu?
"It's going to be very difficult honestly, very similar symptoms between flu and coronavirus. They both have fever cough and runny nose. Things you don't have with the flu that you have with coronavirus are loss of taste and smell, and that's the biggie. There might be a rash with COVID, less likely with flu, otherwise the symptoms are very similar and may be difficult to distinguish." Theresa T. Nguyen, MD, assistant chairman of pediatrics at GBMC and a pediatrician with GBMC Health Partners – Pediatrics

So if I'm feeling sick should I just get a COVID test to rule that out?
"I would strongly advocate for testing and I think, at this point in the year, the testing should not only be narrowed in on the disease dujour, COVID 19, but we really should be looking at the flu. If we don't test for it we can't see it. We also know from last year that the measures we take to protect ourselves from COVID are also protective against flu. Now again, as with any protection, it's imperfect but we should be aware the things we do to protect ourselves from COVID we should also do to protect ourselves from the flu masks and social distancing." Dr. Theordore Bailey MD, JD, MA, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at GBMC