How can we stay healthy this flu season?

The 2020-21 seasonal flu season was among the most mild ever thanks to COVID-19 safety protocols and a population primed to get flu shots.

But as people's defenses slip after 18 months of pandemic prevention, medical professionals like Dr. Nishi Sahgal, director for infectious disease at AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center Hinsdale, warn this flu season, with COVID-19 still circulating, could be much worse.

"It can certainly happen," Sahgal said of the so-called "twindemic."

But only if people let it, she asserted.

"Most of it is in our hands, and how we choose to act in the coming weeks is going to determine what kind of flu season and COVID-19 season that we have," Sahgal said.

Remote learning, working from home and few opportunities for large gatherings last year were major factors in the flu's containment. That's no longer the case, she acknowledged, as people are eager to get back to normal.

"There's definitely a level of concern because we are just starting to enter flu season and we don't know that the majority of people will be vaccinated against both COVID and the flu," Sahgal said. "Frankly, the country and the world has got some level of fatigue about talking about vaccines."

The flu vaccine is tailored to a particular year's strain, she explained, so it's important for people to get it.

"I think that if people get their flu vaccines, that will give them some level of protection against getting severe flu," she said.

That, in turn, will ease the burden on hospitals still faced with a potential winter surge of COVID-19 patients.

"There's the potential of being overwhelmed and more people getting sick that hospitals need to prepare for," she said.

Sahgal noted that flu shots can be administered safely at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

"What we found is you can get any and all vaccines along with the COVID vaccine or booster shot," she reported,

Most people can expect temporary arm soreness from the injection and potentially a low-grade fever. Flu shots are usually available from one's primary care provider and at local pharmacies.

She hopes companies will encourage workers to get flu shots or to stay home when ill.

"Having gone through this COVID pandemic, I think many employers have realized that we need to prioritize our health a little bit," she said.

Since Sahgal treated her first COVID patient in March 2020, her appreciation societal synergy has deepened.

"I've realized that when we work together as a community and as a nation, we can accomplish a lot more, and we can think about others and try to get through this journey together," she said.

That means washing hands, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing and wearing a mask indoors when unable to social distance, Sahgal advised. And get vaccinated. Don't hesitate to talk to your help health care provider if there questions or concerns.

"Brighter days are ahead," she said.

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean