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Providers eye COVID, flu crossover

FAIRMONT — With fall and winter approaching, many medical professionals are anxious to see how COVID-19 will affect the influenza season.

Dr. Jeffrey Green, family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont, said he is nervous about the flu season.

“It’s going to be difficult at times to ascertain what virus is at play,” he said.

Green said the two primarily respiratory illnesses share a number of symptoms, including cough, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, congestion and sore throat.

“We know that COVID can also exhibit some loss of taste and sense of smell,” he said.

Green said Mayo anticipates increased testing.

“To help determine who should be tested and when testing may be prudent, it might be best to access one of the various hotlines. Mayo Clinic has a hotline designed to help patients determine if their symptoms are severe enough that they might need care. If so, they can arrange an in-clinic appointment,” Green said.

He said the Mayo website also has a lot of links and information that is updated regularly. There are links related to prevention and self-care. It can be found at mayoclinichealthsystem.org.

Green said COVID and influenza can run the gamut of mild to severe symptoms.

“We need to not lose sight that influenza each year is a fatal disease,” he said. “That’s why it’s especially important this year for folks to consider and make an appointment to get an influenza vaccination.”

Green went on to say that there are concerns about co-infection, or having one illness, then getting another and having more severe complications.

“There’s a lot of efforts underway in clinics and public awareness efforts to say, ‘Hey, if in the past you’ve sat on the fence about getting a vaccination, this would be the year to strongly consider if not finally agree to get a flu shot,'” Green said.

He said that typically less than half of the population gets an influenza shot each year.

Green said you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. He said it is a safe vaccine available to everyone from ages 6 months old and up, but the senior population would greatly benefit from a flu vaccination.

“As we age, we tend to have some other risk factors and health concerns which increases the likelihood of having complications from the flu,” he noted. “The senior population is at higher risk of influenza-related complications than the more youthful and healthy population.”

Aside from getting ill, Green said a flu shot will be beneficial because it will also reduce the demand on the health care system and free up medical supplies.

He said several pharmacies in town are already offering flu shots.

Green said it has been discovered that in the southern hemisphere the flu season has been milder than most and this is credited to several factors.

“Social distancing, decreased travel and isolation of those who are ill have not only reduced potential COVID exposure but influenza exposure,” he said.

Green emphasized that perhaps the most important thing that can help decrease the transmission of respiratory illnesses is to wear a mask.

“I wear one all day and I don’t find it to be particularly burdensome,” he said. “We do what we can to protect each other.”

This includes wearing a mask while out in public or around people to decrease transmission of illness.

He said that in the past there have been similar campaigns on avoidance of influenza transmission, as there is now for COVID prevention, such as signs saying to cover your cough and wash hands.

Green stressed that getting a flu shot does not have anti-viral properties if exposed to COVID and will not offer protection from the virus.

“What we’re looking for with the influenza vaccine is to prevent illness that could be severe and prevent the likelihood of complications from flu and/or COVID, co-infection or increased risk of potential severe illness or complications,” he said.

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