COVID-19 + Seasonal influenza – Is a Twindemic on the way?

Dr. Titty Thomas, Family Medicine Specialist, Aster Clinic – JLT, UAE

Though the new coronavirus and influenza viruses can cause some of the same symptoms—such as fever, cough and fatigue—these similarities are mostly superficial.

Public health officials are worried that the double threat of coronavirus and the flu circulating at the same time could stress hospitals even further. Possibly a Twindemic is estimated!

Flu season typically kicks into high gear around December. Vaccines are usually available as early as September, and the CDC says September and October are the optimal times to get the shot and ensure protection over the entire flu season. With schools expected to re-open in September in UAE, it may help to protect children against flu.              

The factors that could determine the severity of the upcoming flu season:

1. Transmission: Social distancing policies designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 are also effective against the flu. If COVID-19 cases begin to spike in the fall of 2020, re-tightening social distancing measures could help mitigate early spread of the flu to flatten the curves for both viruses.

2. Vaccination: As we await vaccine trials for COVID-19, we should plan to increase rates of vaccination against the flu, particularly among older adults who are more susceptible to both the flu and COVID-19.

3. Co-infection: We need widespread availability of rapid diagnostics for COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens because co-infection with another respiratory pathogen, including the flu, occurred in more than 20% of COVID-19-positive patients who presented with a respiratory viral syndrome early in the pandemic.

Will a flu vaccine protect against COVID-19?

Getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, however flu vaccination has many other important benefits. Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death. Getting a flu vaccine this season will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu but also to help conserve potentially scarce health care resources.

Who should get their flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exceptions, because it is an effective way to decrease flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses is important to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illness, the healthcare system, and other critical infrastructure. Thus, healthcare providers should use every opportunity during the influenza vaccination season to administer influenza vaccines to all eligible persons, including:

1.Essential workers: Including healthcare personnel (including nursing home, long-term care facility and pharmacy staff)

2.Persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19: Including adults aged 65 years and older, residents in a nursing home or long-term care facility, and persons of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions.

3.Persons at increased risk for serious influenza complications: Including infants and young children, children with neurologic conditions, pregnant women, adults aged 65 years and older, and other persons with certain underlying medical conditions

Should a flu vaccine be given to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19?

No. Vaccination should be deferred (postponed) for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms, until they have met the criteria to discontinue their isolation. While mild illness is not a contraindication to flu vaccination, vaccination visits for these people should be postponed to avoid exposing healthcare personnel and other patients to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Additionally, a prior infection with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or flu does not protect someone from future flu infections. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year.

In order to consult with a doctor, you may avail Aster’s tele-consultation services by booking an appointment at booking an appointment at Aster Hospital or by booking an appointment at Aster Clinic or Aster e-Consult in India.