WFTS, Tampa Bay

It comes as social distancing and mask requirements have become more relaxed and more people have returned to schools and office buildings.

To help combat the expected increase in flu cases, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County is offering free flu shots for everyone, and you don’t have to make an appointment.

“Having these two viruses (COVID-19 and the flu) at the same time is going to be a big problem,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

That’s why experts say they’re really concerned about this flu season, because the flu can be bad enough already without COVID-19.

“In any given year we see between 25,000 and 60,000 people lose their lives to flu,” said Roberts.

Doctors say most flu deaths are preventable by getting the flu shot.

“Go and get vaccinated for flu. You definitely don’t want to end up sick with it this year of all years,” said Roberts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the low level of flu activity last year, could set us up for a severe season this year.

“This is going to be a huge problem with the healthcare system being overwhelmed and not being able to handle two different diseases,” said Roberts.

According to newly released CDC data, about 52% of the U.S. population got a flu vaccine last year, which was similar to the season before that.

Health agencies are encouraging even more people to get vaccinated this year because population immunity is so low due to a mild flu season last year.

Researchers are worried about the possibility of having a flu epidemic at the same time as COVID-19.

“What happens with COVID is it progresses to pneumonia and then what happens with influenza is it progresses to pneumonia. So you basically have the same exact condition happen with both diseases,” said Roberts.

Doctors say it is possible to be infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, or back-to-back.

“It could potentially be devastating. So you’re taking two different viruses that are going to tax similar body systems and they’re going to impact the ability for people to breathe,” said Roberts.

She says there are different types of treatments for both viruses that contradict each other.

“So what we would use to treat COVID is different than what we would use to treat influenza and if you mix the two it could have some serious consequences,” said Roberts.

Doctors say you can get vaccinated for both COVID-19 (either for the first time or as a booster) and the flu at the same time.

“Last year around the same time we were giving these same warnings out and saying, ‘we really need to be careful. We don’t want to get an epidemic of flu and COVID at the same time.’ What prevented that from happening last year was we were wearing masks and we were social distancing and we were locked down. We don’t have any of those things in place this year and we’re already seeing flu cases,” said Roberts.

 

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