Why you should still get the flu shot, even though it won't directly protect you from the coronavirus
- The flu shot is usually available by late October, and medical professionals urge most Americans to get it as early in the season as possible.
- But even by March it's not too late to get the shot, as the season typically extends to April or even May.
- This year, as the novel coronavirus spreads rapidly in the US, the flu shot remains important because complications of the flu could make you more susceptible to getting or becoming ill from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
- Plus, the flu shot will help protect you against the more common illness and ease burdens on the strained healthcare system.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
You've stocked your cupboard with soups and pasta, loaded up on hand-sanitizer and soap, set up a makeshift desk at home, and cancelled vacations — all necessary precautions to protect yourself and others from contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus, which is rapidly spreading in the US.
But you may still be overlooking a simple measure to stay healthy: getting your flu shot.
Experts say it's almost never too late to the get the flu shot and, while it won't make you immune to the coronavirus, it may indirectly make you less susceptible and can help ease burdens on the healthcare system. And since you're still more likely to get the flu than the coronavirus, getting the vaccine is one of the best ways, along with good hygiene, you can stay healthy.
It's only too late to get the flu shot if vaccines have run out
Flu season typically runs from October to April or even May, so getting your vaccine in March still isn't too late. In fact, Dr. Laila Woc-Colburn, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Insider there's no exact date when it's too late, but rather when flu vaccines run out.
(Only a small group of people, like those under 6 months and those with serious flu vaccine allergies, shouldn't get the flu at any time of year.)
Even if you've already gotten the flu this season, but not the shot, you should get the vaccine unless you're certain what you came down with truly was the flu. "Unless you got tested, there's no way of saying that's what's going on," Woc-Colburn said.
In case your "flu" was actually the coronavirus, getting the shot can help prevent you from getting sick later on with the flu.
It's possible to get the flu and the coronavirus at the same time
Dr. Christie Alexander, an associate professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine and president of the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, said in a press release last month she recommends "continuing to get the flu shot to not only avoid getting the flu, but to avoid complications from the flu, such as hospitalizations, influenza-associated illnesses like pneumonia or even death."
It's avoiding those complications that may make getting the flu shot especially important during outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, which is more likely to cause serious symptoms or lead to death in people with certain health conditions, including respiratory issues.
Woc-Colburn said that while it's unclear if having the flu will make you more susceptible to the coronavirus, anyone who's had one virus in their household only to contract another while they're on the mend can understand why that might be the case. "When you're recovering from a disease, you don't want to be hit again with another disease," she said.
Plus, it's possible to get both at once, which will only exacerbate symptoms, as one case study out of China illustrates.
It's also important to get the flu shot because preventing the flu means helping to prevent crowding in doctor's offices and hospitals, which are already bracing to be strained with coronavirus cases. "If you don't need to go to the ER, don't go to the ER," Woc-Colburn said.
This year's flu vaccine is particularly effective, research shows.
"If you haven't had your flu shot, please get you and your family the flu shot," Dr. Sherlita Amler, an adjunct professor of public health at New York Medical College who is commissioner of health in Westchester County, said at a coronavirus conference earlier this year.
Doing so means "it's much less likely that you're going to have the flu, which means you're less likely of respiratory symptoms, which means you're less likely to feel anxious that, 'Oh my God, do I have this new disease that they're talking about?'" she said. "Probably not."
Hilary Brueck contributed to the reporting in this article.
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