Doctors look ahead to flu season as COVID pandemic continues

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County was among the areas reporting some of the state’s highest flu case totals last year. This year, what you’re doing to protect yourself against COVID-19 could also protect you from the spreading the flu.

Facial coverings and masks are now requirements in Shelby County, and doctors say wearing them could also drastically reduce flu cases. It’s something they’re counting on to ensure they have hospital space to treat COVID and other illnesses.

“We know that influenza and COVID-19 are spread in the same way through coughs and sneezes and respiratory droplets that we get on our hands and touch surfaces with,” said Dr. Nicholas Hysmith, medical director of infection prevention

Doctors are hopeful a recent emphasis on social distancing, hand washing and facial coverings to the slow the spread of COVID-19 will be beneficial during flu season.

“If everyone has a mask on then, obviously, coughs and sneezes aren’t going to be expelled out into the surrounding area and have the potential to infect other individuals,” he said.

That’s especially true for high-risk age groups like children.

“I think everything we’ve put in place will probably reduce the amount of spread of influenza and COVID-19 in our school system,” Hysmith said. “I think we know that young children spread influenza a lot more readily than adults do, which is opposite for COVID-19.”

That’s important because COVID-19 has a longer incubation period than the flu. But with similar symptoms, doctors say a flu shot will be the difference.

“We’re hopeful that vaccinations will help us to prevent a lot of those serious influenza illnesses that we see in the winter and hopefully preserve that bed space for COVID-19 type illnesses,” Hysmith said.

Doctors say they stress universal flu shots this year but especially those in high risk groups or those who have chronic medical conditions.

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