Every year, nearly 400,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related illnesses. This year, health care providers are facing the potentially devastating combination of a flu season while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
As we near flu season, Evelyn Balogun, M.D., medical director for Inspira Urgent Care and Occupational Health and Employee Health, shares why primary care providers play such a pivotal role in protecting patients from influenza as health care systems continue to be inundated by the stress of COVID-19.
“Preparing for the regular flu season begins in late spring to early summer, starting with taking a look at how we not only engage our employees, but also our patients,” said Dr. Balogun. “Now more so than ever, we have to start our messaging early. Our employees and patients must understand how important it is to be protected from the flu so we can evade a season with two diseases that present so similarly.”
While influenza and COVID-19 have overlapping symptoms such as a headache, cough, fever and body aches, there is one main differentiator: COVID-19 can cause a loss of smell and taste.
Flu season typically begins in October and can last through spring, depending on the season. It’s important to get the flu vaccine before it starts spreading through a community. Most patients should aim to get the vaccine in late September or early October.
“Encouraging patients to get vaccinated doesn’t just help protect the community against influenza,” said Dr. Balogun. “It also enables our providers to reach a more accurate diagnosis.”
When the pandemic first struck the South Jersey region early this year, Inspira providers treated patients experiencing co-infections from both influenza and the coronavirus. While there is not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, there is a vaccine for influenza—and vaccination is vitally important for lowering the risk of co-infection.
“Because of the newly implemented infection control measures, such as social distancing, wearing a mask, and vigilant hand washing, we are hopeful that this flu season will be milder than before,” said Dr. Balogun. “However, it is all contingent upon how committed our communities are to adhering to these new protocols.”
As the South Jersey community moves forward into the flu season in the midst of COVID-19, health care providers must continue to communicate with patients about the success of the current infection control practices. Every preventive measure is a step toward a safer community and being vaccinated against influenza will only help Inspira better help patients this fall.
“Sadly, only half of Americans receive the flu vaccine. Those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, COPD, and heart disease, can face serious health risks if they contract either influenza or COVID-19,” said Dr. Balogun. “Spreading the message about early vaccination is one of the best things we can do as health care providers.”
Help your patients schedule their flu shot appointment today by calling 1-800-INSPIRA.