While less than half of Americans receive the flu vaccine in a typical year, health experts are warning that 2020 is not the time to skip the shot.

With tens of thousands of Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 each day, and with flu season beginning in October, the two respiratory illnesses could strike simultaneously in what many in the media are referring to as a “twindemic.” If COVID and flu cases spike simultaneously, it could overwhelm the health care system, leading to shortages of hospital beds or another nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), influenza is detected year-round in the U.S., but the peak of activity, the flu season, starts in October and ends in May. Cases typically peak between December and February.

The CDC estimates that, between Oct. 1, 2019 and April 4, 2020, as many as 740,000 Americans were hospitalized and 62,000 people died from the influenza. COVID-19, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans this year, has similar symptoms to the flu, which would make it challenging for medical professionals to diagnose which illness is infecting a patient.

The distinction is important because there is a standard treatment for influenza. While most cases of the flu are mild and require bed rest, flu can be treated with antiviral drugs. Our understanding of COVID-19 is still developing, and that includes which treatment options are most effective.

And while a vaccine for COVID-19 is still in development, the flu shot is available in your community. You can call your local pharmacy, health department, Council on Aging or your doctor for help finding your nearest option.

It was been widely reported that the flu season throughout the Southern Hemisphere, which is used to predict trends for America’s flu season, has been especially mild. Health experts believe the low case count is attributable to the “new normal” under COVID-19, including mask wearing, social distancing and travel restrictions.

Whether or not America will experience a similarly mild flu season is up for debate. American did not implement strict restrictions on international air travel as some nations in the Southern Hemisphere did. America is also in the process of reopening.

In a recent livestreamed interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, CDC Director Robert Redfield said that this fall, “nothing can be more important than to try to increase the American public’s decision to embrace the flu vaccine with confidence.”

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