HSC experts offer advice for the upcoming flu season

By Kathryn Lytton

Flu Shot

The flu season is approaching and experts at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth are tackling questions about the yearly virus as communities continue to fight COVID-19. 

Here is a Q&A about the seasonal flu and related topics: 

Dr. Priya Bui

Priya Bui, DO, Pediatrics

When should a child begin getting a flu vaccine?  

Flu shots are available and safe for children at 6 months and older. 

This is wonderful timing as infants will become more mobile and interactive and will have some protection against the flu while learning to put everything in their mouths and touch everything.

What should a parent consider about the flu or flu vaccine for their child if they go to school or daycare? 

In a school or daycare setting, children have a greater chance for exposure to the fluHowever, when children get flu shots, they make a protective environment in the school – making it less likely for the flu to spread through the classroom. 

What are the concerns for flu season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

One of the main concerns is that the flu is known to be harder on children. We are still learning about COVID. We worry about children being at risk for both infections and the severity of the combination. We do not want to find out that children with both infections have more severe outcomes. We also worry about the challenges of quarantine and missing school or childcare during a pandemic when it is difficult to separate flu or COVID pending faster or more available testing. 

How do you think our current safety measures for COVID-19 will impact the spread of flu this year?  

We are very hopeful that social distancing measures and mask wearing will reduce the spread of the seasonal flu. We have reason to believe that this may be so as we see what is happening in countries that are already going through their normal flu season and the reduced cases there. Because the flu is primarily a respiratory virus, as is COVID, prevention measures could help us significantly with both.  

What else would you like to share about the flu or flu vaccine? 

We often hear conversations about getting the vaccine right or still getting the flu after getting the vaccine. One of the best ways to think about it is that flu vaccines not only make it less likely for you to get the flu but make it less likely to have worse outcomes from having the flu. As far as strategies for children, the annual flu vaccine is the best strategy for preventing seasonal influenza as well as associated complications.  

Sarah Ross, DO, Geriatrics

Dr Sarah Ross

Among older populations, who should be getting a flu vaccine? 

All patients 65 and up, regardless of if they’ve received a flu vaccine in the past. 

What risks and benefits should an older adult consider about the flu or flu vaccine? 

Flu vaccine side effects are rare and mild. They can include soreness, redness and feeling under the weather for a day or twoWith older adults having a higher chance of getting sicker with the flu, the benefits outweigh the risks of getting a flu shot. Older populations experience more flu-related deaths and more flu-related complications can occur in this population. 

What are the concerns for older adults as we approach flu season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Looking at the bigger picture – as citizens of our communities, we need to do the responsible thing to reduce the transmission of flu and COVID-19. We are practicing a lot of precautions for COVID-19, which has no vaccine yet, and we do have a vaccine for flu so we need to do the responsible thing to not overwhelm our health care system.  

How do you think our current safety measures for COVID-19 will impact the spread of flu this year?  

Flu and COVID-19 spread in the same way, so all of the COVID-19 precautions with regards to masks and hand hygiene are the same recommendations for flu, so on paper we anticipate the flu season to be less than usual since these precautions are in place. 

Is it safe for a person to visit their providers office for a flu vaccine?  

I have faith in the healthcare system to carry out the precautions. Some people are scared to go to the ER, but we’re following precautions like using appropriate PPE and physical distancing in the healthcare settings. These precautions are being taken seriously and health care employees are doing everything possible to prevent patients from being exposed to COVID-19 and keep trips to the doctor safe 

What else would you like to share about the flu or flu vaccine? 

High dose vaccines are available for older adults over 65. Getting a flu shot is most important, but if you have the opportunity for high dose, there’s a better protection provided in older adults. It’s not always available and it’s only recommended for those over 65, but it’s the exact same vaccine with higher dose to get a better response from the immune system. In HSC Health Geriatrics clinic, it’s automatic, we’re going to give older adults the high dose, but if it’s a pharmacy or general practice, they may have both, or may only have the regular flu shot. In that case, get the regular flu shot and don’t hold off, but our clinic orders it specifically because they’re recommended people ages 65 and older 

Megan Wesling, PharmD, Clinical Pharmacist in HSC Heath Family Medicine

Dr. Megan WeslingHow does the flu vaccine work? 

The flu vaccine works to develop antibodies in the body to protect against common influenza viruses. This protection against the flu develops over two weeks from time of vaccination.  

What risks and benefits should someone consider about the flu or flu vaccine? 

The benefit to receiving the flu vaccine include reducing your risk for getting sick with the flu, severity of the illness if infected and potential need for management at a hospital if you were to develop the flu. We also find that vaccinating against the flu can reduce the risk of flu-associated death. Also, it is important to consider how you may be protecting the people around you from the flu. There are vulnerable patients such as those very young children (less than 6 months), older adults and those with chronic health conditions (i.e. diabetes, chronic lung disease) that have a higher risk for developing a serious flu illness if they were to be infected with the flu virus.  

Are there any groups of people you would highly recommend to get the flu vaccine? I.e., people who work in essential positions, interacting with many people daily. 

Although everyone 6 months and older should think about receiving the flu vaccine, there is particular emphasis for vaccination for certain populations.  

People includeare: 

  • Pregnant 
  • Ages 6 months to 4 years 
  • 50 years and older 
  • Have a suppressed immune system due to any cause (i.e. medications or disease) 
  • Residents of a nursing home or long-term care facility 
  • Healthcare personnel 
  • People with chronic health conditions (e.g. chronic lung disease, extreme obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular or renal diseases).  
  • Contacts/caregivers to one of the above listed persons 

Should you get the flu vaccine as early in the season as possible? 

The goal is to receive the flu vaccine before the flu virus begins to spread for the season in the community. Remember it takes two weeks for our body to develop its protection against the flu. Therefore, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends receiving the flu vaccine in early fall (and by the end of October).  

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