LOS ANGELES - Health officials are urging people to get vaccinated against influenza ahead of this year's flu season to prevent an influx of both flu and COVID-19 cases at hospitals.
"Our fear last year was that we were going to have a twindemic with the COVID pandemic and also a bad flu season. Fortunately, that didn't happen. We know that this year, we're not gonna be as fortunate," said Dr. Thomas Yadegar, the Medical Director of the ICU at Providence Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
Last year was one of the mildest flu seasons on record. There were unprecedented numbers of people who received the flu vaccination, and COVID-19 protocols were in place too.
"The thing that's different this year than it was last year is our kids have gone back to school. A lot of people have gone back to work, places of entertainment have started to open. Last year, we had a lockdown. Everybody was at home. People were social distancing, masking and because of the COVID scare, more than the normal number of people who get vaccinated went and got vaccinated [against influenza] and we had very little influenza," said Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, the Chair of Infectious Diseases at Dignity Health Hospital Medical Center.
Dr. Yadegar said physicians are already seeing an unusual number of respiratory viruses among children.
"Already these past few months, we've seen a lot of other respiratory viruses. We've seen outbreaks of RSV in children which is usually a winter virus but we've seen cases this summer and if you look at other parts of the country, there have been huge outbreaks," he said.
Dr. Yadegar said a twindemic would be devastating for hospitals.
"Even in a good flu season in the wintertime, we're always struggling to find adequate beds, adequate staffing to take care of all of the patients and if you have COVID-19 on top of that, then we're going to have to get to a point where we're canceling surgeries, closing emergency rooms, and worst-case scenario is when we go into rationing health care. Every hospital has plans for that," said Yadegar.
Doctors recommend vaccinations against both COVID-19 and influenza this year.
"The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19, as well as the flu, is to get vaccinated. We already know COVID-19 has killed over 600,000 people in the past 19 months and every year, we lose about 20,000 to 60,000 people from influenza so what we want is people to get vaccinated. The best way to protect the children around us, those that are under the age of 12 and cannot get the COVID vaccine, is to have everyone around them be vaccinated because that would reduce their chance of getting the virus," said Yadegar.
The CDC recommends children get a flu vaccine every year in the fall starting when children are six months old.
Doctors said in vaccinated people, flu and COVID-19 symptoms can be very similar and the only way to know between the two is testing.
"The symptoms between influenza and COVID-19 are so similar that it's almost impossible to tell them apart so I think it's critically important that if you develop those symptoms, quarantine and test yourself," said Yadegar.
Dr. Radhakrishna said the best way to prevent a bad flu season is vaccination and continuing to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
"This is a prediction and if people do the right thing then it won't be a bad season. Otherwise, it could potentially be a bad season and you always are prepared for the worst and the vaccination is one level of safety," said Radhakrishna.
The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine by the end of October before cases start spreading.