September 23, 2020

2020 Flu Season: What To Know

Tony Moody, MD

The 2020 flu season is upon us and like many, we have concerns and questions. We talked to DHVI Investigator, Tony Moody, MD for answers.

Dr. Tony Moody is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Immunology at Duke University Medical Center. He is the director of the Duke CIVICs Vaccine Center (DCVC) at DHVI and co-director of the Centers for Research of Emerging Infectious Disease Coordinating Center (CREID-CC). He also serves as director of the DHVI Accessioning Unit. 

What should we expect from this year’s flu season amidst the coronavirus pandemic? Should people worry it will be worse?

We really have no idea what to expect for this year’s flu season because we’ve never been in this situation before. It is possible that we will have a mild season because the social distancing and mask wearing for COVID-19 will also reduce influenza disease burden; in fact, the flu season came to an early end last spring primarily because people were no longer coming into contact and transmitting it. On the other hand, if people don’t distance and we have a resurgence of COVID-19, it could make the influenza season much worse because people could be coinfected and that could be bad. 

What are some things people can do to stay flu free?

First and foremost, get your vaccine this year. This will be good because 1) it will reduce the chance you will get flu and 2) if you don’t get flu, you are less likely to have to go to the doctor where you might be exposed to other things that sick people have.

Second, good hygiene, including hand sanitizing and the usual things like covering your mouth when you sneeze/cough, or doing those things into your elbow.

Third, this year I would avoid crowds as much as possible. Crowds are a great place for respiratory virus transmission, both because of close proximity and because people touch lots of things and then touch their face.

Fourth, take care of yourself, including eating well and doing other things to keep yourself physically and mentally strong. Exercise isn’t a bad idea, either.

Will people be able to tell the difference between flu and SARS-CoV-2?

Probably, but there may be significant overlap in symptoms. Both can make you feel terrible, both can make you need medical care. The only real way to know for sure is getting a test when you are sick. We are all concerned about the availability of tests this fall, but if you are sick, go seek care. Even if you want to avoid the doctor’s office or ER because you are afraid of getting sick, you are better off getting seen and getting the right care. If you wait, things can get worse rapidly, and that won’t be a good thing.

How soon should people get vaccinated?

Sooner rather than later. There are always debates about both vaccine waning over the season and whether there will be a good match. You can’t do anything about the vaccine match, but by getting the vaccine earlier in the season, you are getting the biggest benefit. This is because the circulating virus can change over the season, and the vaccine match is usually highest early in the season. So even if you get vaccinated late to avoid the waning problem, the match can be worse so you end up losing the benefit of waiting. Get it now.