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Your 2021 Flu Season Questions, Answered!

One silver lining of our past two winters through the coronavirus pandemic was that the flu season was not as severe as years prior. According to one flu expert, there were 100 times fewer infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from last flu season than in average seasons.


But now, with kids back in school, workers back in the office, and more people planning on traveling over the holidays, experts are expecting the 2021 season to be the last. We’ve found the answers to your questions about what to expect.

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How bad is this year’s flu season expected to be?


Typically, scientists look to countries in the Southern hemisphere, like Australia and New Zealand, to gauge what to expect for our flu season. The good news is that there were “essentially zero” flu cases, mirroring the 99% drop in flu cases in 2020. So some experts assume that cases in America will follow this trend.


The lighter influenza season in the Southern hemisphere could also work against us.

The lack of cases deprived us of the opportunity to study the strains currently circulating. If different strains appear that weren’t included in the vaccine, it could lead to a more severe flu season.


On the other hand, more severe flu seasons tend to follow years of light cases. This is because immunity to the flu only lasts around 18 months. With two years of very light influenza seasons, there are likely very few people with any sort of natural immunity. Moreover, new research has found that the absence of certain pathogens (like what happened during the pandemic) can lead to an overall decrease in herd immunity against them. This can lead to the rise of more serious, longer-lasting epidemics like the flu season that could start sooner than average. With a decrease in herd immunity, coupled with a return to pre-pandemic levels of interaction, there is a chance the flu could easily make its rounds this year.


However, all influenza experts agree that the flu is very unpredictable. There have been virtually no patterns between flu seasons. So really, all we can do is speculate for now.


How well do the vaccines for the flu work?


Compared to the Coronavirus mRNA vaccines, which offer 90% immunity, the influenza vaccine doesn’t look so hot. Vaccines for the flu typically only have a 39% effectiveness rate. This is because the flu virus changes very rapidly, and most vaccines for influenza are grown imprecisely and slowly in chicken eggs. Also, because multiple influenza strains are spread in a flu season, there is a chance that you might catch a strain not included in the vaccine.


Who should get a flu vaccine?


Apart from very few exceptions, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months should get the flu vaccine. Despite being grown in an egg, people with egg allergies can still get the flu shot. Though, people with allergies to gelatin, antibiotics or other vaccine ingredients should not.


Pregnant people are also eligible to receive the influenza vaccination. By getting a flu shot, pregnant women are also protecting their babies, because flu-fighting antibodies are also passed to the infant and offer protection after the baby is born. (Research has suggested that the same is also true for the COVID-19 vaccines.)


Does it after when and where I get the flu shot?


Not really, no. You can get a flu shot anywhere it’s offered- be it a flu clinic, pharmacy, health department, or a doctor’s office.


The CDC also recommends that everyone get the flu vaccine by the end of October at the latest. But because herd immunity is likely lower than average this year, it’s likely the flu will peak earlier this year than the normal December and February. As it takes two weeks to develop full immunity from the flu vaccine, you should probably go out and get it.


That being said, it’s never too late to get the flu shot! Immunity to the flu often carries over to the following year. So getting vaccinated for this flu season will benefit you for at least one more flu season to follow.


Children between 8 years and 6 months who have never received the flu vaccine or only received one dose should probably get two doses of the vaccine. But these vaccines must be at least 4 weeks apart.


Has anything changed about flu vaccines and recommendations this year?


Not really, although now doctors report it is safe and effective to receive both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines and boosters at the same time.


What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?


Typical side effects of the flu vaccine include:

  • Soreness

  • Nausea

  • Muscle aches

  • fatigue

  • Redness at the site of injection

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Swelling at the site of injection

For adults receiving the nasal spray, side effects may include:

  • Runny nose

  • Headache

  • Cough

For children receiving the nasal spray, side effects may include:

  • Runny nose

  • Wheezing

  • Headache

  • Vomiting

  • Muscle aches

  • Low-grade fever

  • Sore throat

How can I tell if I have the flu, COVID-19, allergies, or a cold?


It can be hard to discern between these conditions because of the many overlapping symptoms. For example, both COVID-19 and the flu can cause chills, fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, body aches, runny nose, diarrhea, headache, and vomiting. Thus, the only real way to know which one you have is to get tested. Many doctor’s offices and health clinics now offer a combined test that can distinguish between COVID-19, the flu, and other respiratory viruses.


Symptoms of colds and allergies are typically milder than that of COVID-19 and the flu. Moreover, a cold and allergies are often limited to the nose, throat, and chest. But for children, COVID-19 can have symptoms that mirror a cold. So it may be best to test your child if they have the symptoms of a cold just to be sure.


Can I get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?


Yes, but cases of simultaneous infections have been very low thus far. A study from the spring of 2020 found that only 3% of the 1,200 adult COVID-19 patients tested had simultaneous infections. Kids may be more likely to catch multiple infections at the same time, however. Children that have been hospitalized from COVID-19 often have multiple respiratory viruses.


Because cases of simultaneous infections are so rare, there is still little known about how serious this dual infection can be. Some cases have been very severe, while others have not been bad at all. But the possibility of simultaneous infects should be an even further incentive to get a flu vaccine.


How can I protect myself from catching the flu?


All of the precautions used to avoid COVID-19 will also work to prevent catching influenza. Washing your hands, wearing a mask, social distancing, and isolation when sick will also help to prevent the spread of the flu.


However, even if you’re vaccinated from both the flu and COVID-19, you should still be working to optimize your health!


The Johnson Center recommends a multi-faceted plan to obtain optimal health- encompassing biological and genomic testing, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and wellness plans. To learn more, click here. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at thejohnsoncenter@gmail.com or call 276-235-3205.


The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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