Getting a flu shot might not be at the top of your mind these days, but with the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, flu shots are more important than ever. To help you better understand why, Drs. Linda Fu and Holly Kim answer some questions about the flu, the shot, and the relationship between flu and COVID-19.

Why should I get a flu shot this year?

While it has always been important for everyone ages 6 months and up to get the flu shot, it is arguably even more important this year given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Flu and COVID-19 cause similar symptoms and if your child is unlucky enough to catch both at the same time, they could have a worse course of illness as their body tries to fight both. Besides both viruses causing lung issues and breathing problems, in rare cases, both the flu and COVID viruses can cause life-threating, sudden heart attacks.

Another reason for your child to get the flu shot is to help them avoid trips to the doctor’s office. While doctor’s offices are cleaning more and using masks and gloves to keep you and your family safe, it may give you peace of mind to have fewer reasons to make a visit.

Lastly, by having large numbers of people protected against flu from having had the shot, there will be fewer cases of flu in the community. This means there will be fewer demands on the healthcare system which will allow doctors and hospitals to focus their scarce resources on people who are very sick with COVID-19. This is what they have been already seeing in other countries such as Australia.

Can I get the flu if I get the flu mist?

This is a common myth. None of the flu vaccines, including the mist or spray, can give you the flu. Even though the nasal flu spray is a live vaccine, is designed to work only in the cooler temperatures of the nose and gets inactivated when it reaches the warmer temperatures of the lungs. Of course, no vaccine protects 100%, and the flu vaccine also cannot protect you against other viruses. People who end up catching the common cold or catching the flu after having gotten the flu vaccine often mistake their symptoms as having been caused by the vaccine. It’s important to note that even though the flu vaccine can’t protect 100% against catching flu, it still makes your symptoms less severe and shorter than if you didn’t get the vaccine.

Are there different symptoms for the flu and COVID?

The only symptom that is different for COVID-19 is that it can cause change in or loss of taste or smell, which is not typical of flu. Most of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 overlap, and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, fatigue and headaches. Both can also sometimes cause vomiting and diarrhea, mostly in children.

Will my child get a COVID and flu test if I think they may be sick with one of those?

It will be up to healthcare provider who evaluates your child what tests to order based on what symptoms they have. There are several different swab tests for viruses including COVID-19 and flu that can be ordered. If your child’s symptoms seem most consistent with COVID-19 and flu, they could be checked for those viruses. If there was a known exposure to one of the viruses, your child’s doctor may choose to focus on just one of the tests.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Linda Fu Linda Fu, MD, MS, is a general pediatrician at Children’s National and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine. Her advocacy and research interests lie in immunization delivery—understanding and removing barriers to children receiving recommended vaccinations to keep them and the community at-large safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Holly Kim Hyunbo Holly Kim, MD, is a pediatrician at Children's National. Her special interests include improving healthcare quality and outcomes and she deeply values developing relationships with her patients

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