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One-two COVID+flu punch could put a hurt on Northeast Ohio, doctors warn

The actual start and duration of flu season varies, according to the CDC. But flu activity often begins to increase in October.
Darron Cummings
The start of flu season is still weeks or months away, but you can get a flu shot now at many pharmacies or from your doctor. Doctors recommend you can get your COVID booster and your annual influenza vaccine same time.

Infectious disease experts are casting a wary eye towards the Southern Hemisphere as a worse-than-normal flu season raises the possibility of a "twindemic" this winter as both COVID-19 and influenza circulate.

In Northeast Ohio, doctors are expecting a bad flu season, said University Hospitals infectious disease doctor Keith Armitage.

Unlike during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Armitage pointed out that many people have abandoned mitigation practices that helped stop the spread of COVID-19 and also the flu.

“We’re not going to shut down. We're not going to universal masking. So really, the only way to try to mitigate it is the vaccine," he said.

A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic was that prevention measures like masking, social distancing and staying home when sick also stopped the spread of influenza. It worked so well that nationwide only one child died from the flu in the U.S. last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a normal year, nearly 200 kids are killed.

But Armitage said that because the flu hasn't circulated as much in recent years, young people are less likely to be immune. And he warns that a severe strain could mean that older people have a harder time fighting the illness too.

The best bet to avoid getting sick is by getting the flu shot this month, Armitage said.

“You can get your COVID booster and your annual influenza vaccine same time, same stop," he said. "There's no reason not to get them at the same time. There's no decreased efficacy."

Updated COVID-19 boosters that target the omicron variants that are currently circulating are available at no cost at most pharmacies, which also likely carry the flu shot, Armitage said.

Complacency regarding the vaccines at a time when both the flu and COVID-19 are circulating can be dangerous, he said.

“There was a recent paper that suggested uptake of this new [COVID-19] booster could save 90,000 lives this winter, and, obviously, this is hugely significant.”

Viruses are more easily transmitted as it gets colder and people move inside, Armitage said. Holiday gatherings will likely also increase the spread.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.
Stephanie is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.