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How will the COVID-19 Delta variant surge impact flu season?

A Kaiser Permanente infectious disease physician says it’s safe to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations simultaneously. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19 mask requirements. Please follow all current safety precautions.)

In part due to COVID-19 precautions — mask wearing and social distancing — there was an unprecedented low number of flu cases in Northern California during the 2020-2021 influenza and cold season, according to D. Scott Smith, MD, chief of infectious disease and geographic medicine at the Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center.   

However, as travel, social distancing, and mask mandates in certain communities have eased, it’s predicted the flu and cold season could come back with a punch.

“Masking and social distancing have been successful in curbing the spread of flu and respiratory syncytial virus, but we know if those mandates are lifted, flu and colds will come back,” said Dr. Smith. With flu vaccinations available by mid-September, read on for more information from him.  

Is it safe to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccination simultaneously?

Yes. The most effective precaution to take is to get a flu vaccination when available to Kaiser Permanente members at no cost at the organization’s medical centers and flu clinics starting mid-September. Flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older.

With COVID-19 infections on the rise due to the Delta variant, it’s more important than ever to get both vaccinations. It is safe to get a COVID-19 vaccination and flu vaccination simultaneously with no wait time in between, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Will flu come back with a vengeance this season?

It’s impossible to predict the severity of the influenza and cold season. But, given that most students have returned to in-person learning after 18 months at home and some people are working in the office again, it’s likely that the number of flu cases will be higher than last season. If mask wearing indoors continues, however, it will have a positive impact on the season’s outcome.

If you or your child are showing symptoms of a flu or cold, stay home from work or school, ventilate your home, and do the best you can to isolate from others.

Will my symptoms be worse if I get the flu or a cold this season?

If you did not get the flu or a cold last year, your symptoms will not be worse if you contract either this season.

There is a misconception that you have a lack of immunity if you didn’t get the flu the previous year, but this is not true. People can expect the severity of their symptoms to be similar to any other time they have had the flu or a cold.

Are the symptoms of flu, common cold, and COVID-19 similar?

The symptoms of the 3 are very difficult to distinguish from one another.

For example, the flu can include chest congestion, coughing, and complications that lead to high fever, just like COVID-19. All 3 illnesses can include body aches, fatigue, and sore throat.

COVID-19 does have some unique symptoms, including loss of smell and taste. Nasal congestion or a runny nose is typically more common with a cold and possibly influenza than with COVID-19.

When should I get tested for COVID-19?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms for either COVID-19 or the flu, or have recently been in contact with someone who tested positive for either virus, you should quarantine and self-schedule a COVID-19 test on kp.org.

The good news is that in addition to getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, the same precautions that you have been taking to fight COVID-19 — wearing a mask in public, maintaining 6 feet of distance from people outside your household, and washing your hands frequently — will help prevent flu and colds, too.

Find information and regular updates on flu vaccination and clinic hours and locations. 

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