Flu shot becomes even more critical in COVID era

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By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ

COOKEVILLE – With spiking COVID rates throughout the Upper Cumberland, officials warn it is even more critical this year to get a flu shot. 

According to Dr. Mark Pierce, Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC) infectious disease specialist, “People are easily at double the risk this season with the two circulating viruses that look and act very similarly.”

The start of flu season compounds the dangers associated with COVID. Last week there had already been 13 cases of flu diagnosed at CRMC.

Pierce urges that everybody over six months old get a flu vaccine. 

“Nothing in medicine – absolutely nothing in medicine – has made as much difference in longevity and decreasing illness as vaccines,” said Pierce. “It is the single best thing that we have ever done.”

There are different types of flu vaccines available currently. The quadrivalent flu vaccine is designed to protect against four different strains of the flu virus (two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses) and the trivalent vaccine protects against three different strains (two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus). There is a nasal spray.

A high-dose vaccine containing four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses) is available specifically for people 65 years and older.

Since COVID and the flu can create the same syndrome, the symptoms present much the same way, and it is impossible to distinguish between a patient with COVID and a patient with the flu without testing.  

Pierce emphasized that CRMC is prepared to deal with flu patients in addition to the daily average of 30+ inpatient COVID cases that the hospital has had since the pandemic began. 

There are typically five to 10 patients admitted with flu each day during the height of flu season, but Pierce emphasized, “During a bad flu season, we could double that, so it will stress all healthcare systems trying to take care of these patients at the same time.”

“We are really prepared,” said Pierce. “Paul Korth (CRMC CEO) and the rest of the administrative team have done a really good job of getting us ready, so we are equipped to handle way more than we have. I’m not saying it’s not stressful since a lot of patients are ill, but we are very much equipped to handle more.”

CRMC has 24 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 14 cardiovascular intensive care unit CVICU beds. Four additional rooms could be converted to ICU beds if needed.  

“At the rates we are now, a bad flu season wouldn’t overwhelm us, but if you got a bad flu season and then you also markedly increase your rates of COVID, you could be in trouble. But right now, I’d say we are equipped to handle that if it happens,” Pierce added.

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