LOS ANGELES - While COVID-19 cases are rising, flu cases are not.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this time last year, flu cases accounted for about 2.5% of doctor’s visits nationwide compared to 1.5% this year.
“I think one of the things is that more people got their flu shots earlier this year,” says Dr. Nina Shapiro, of UCLA Medical Center.
Dr. Shapiro says this year’s flu season is off to a slow start for several reasons, including the fact that many people got immunized during the summer months, but also:
“People are wearing masks; people are home so there's a lot less contact,” says Dr. Shapiro.
This means the dreaded twindemic hasn't happened yet, but it still could. What is happening, though, is confusion over crossover symptoms. Dr. Shapiro says because influenza and COVID-19 share many symptoms, including fever, body aches, cough and sore throat, she recommends patients get swabbed for both diseases. However, she says, there are differentiating factors.
“One of the big differences is with COVID people have shortness of breath + respiratory distress - that's not typical with influenza. The other difference is, especially in younger people with COVID, they tend to have more gastrointestinal symptoms,” says Dr. Shapiro.
Last year, the CDC reports 22,000 Americans died of influenza compared to nearly 250,000 coronavirus deaths this year. One of the differences is the flu vaccine which, on average, you may be surprised to learn is just 40-60% effective. More reason Dr. Shapiro encourages people to get it.
“It will be closer to 60% effectiveness if more people get it,” says Dr. Shapiro.