Health expert warns of flu and COVID-19 colliding in same season

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Inside St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dr. Richard Webby is a globally known influenza expert.

Dr. Webby is part of a team of scientists that advises the World Health Organization on the makeup of each year’s flu vaccine.

He said it’s possible influenza and COVID-19 are on a collision course.

“It’s a great question … and no one has the real answer, but it’s something we have to be prepared for,” Dr. Webby said. “So these are two viruses that cause similar symptoms, and if they are going to be around at the same time, it’s really going to complicate matters … I think the biggest message we can get out now is, take that flu vaccine as soon as it gets here. We want to keep people out of of the emergency rooms, out of the doctor’s office, out of hospitals.”

To complicate matters, schools will be reopening soon, and the viruses have similar symptoms.

“Muscle aches, runny nose, a cough, sniffle, but we’re heading into a time of year where we’re going to have schools open, and we need to identify these COVID-19 cases as quickly as possible,” Dr. Webby said.

COVID-19 is putting a strain on public health resources, and some health experts said a dual test is needed.

“Nothing is ready for primetime,” Dr. Webby said. “For example, the U.S. CDC has a test before the FDA now getting reviewed. One sample, get tested for both, and that’s where we need to be.”

For now, Dr. Webby said Mid-South residents should social distance and mask up as we face a season of unknowns, especially if the flu and COVID-19 collide.

“That’s going to put a lot of strain on our hospitals and public health facilities,” he said. “We need to hope for the best but be prepared for this getting worse.”

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