Rochester, Minn. Hoping to address the health system’s shortfalls caused by the rising number of cases, Mayo Clinic experts are urging the public to get their flu shots before the holidays.
“Influenza is out there and it’s finding those cracks and taking advantage of opportunities to spread,” Mayo virologist Dr Matthew Binnikar said Friday.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Avinash Virk said, “The symptoms of influenza… can be very similar to the symptoms of COVID-19.” “In 2020, patients with COVID-19 often had a loss of smell and taste,” Virk said, and this helped differentiate COVID-19 from the flu.
“For the Delta and Omicron variants, however, the loss of taste and smell is not as common,” Virk said. “Both are running now, we have to do additional testing, because it does matter how we handle them.”
Binnikar said 20,000 tests for the 2020 season at the Mayo Clinic did not detect any cases of influenza.
It was an unprecedented eradication of the infection. Doctors attributed this to high influenza vaccination rates, a lack of international travel, the cancellation of large events, keeping children home from school and the widespread use of masks.
This year, however, some of those variables are in play. As a result, with 7 to 8 percent of influenza tests coming back positive, flu season doesn’t typically peak until after the holidays.
“It’s certainly not too late,” Virk said, “because influenza is at the beginning of its upward curve. Normally, it takes about two weeks for you to be immunized once you get the vaccine, So it’s still a good idea to get the vaccine.”
“It’s not just about personal protection from those infections, but also the downstream events that can happen when someone is infected and our hospitals and clinics across the country and around the world are overwhelmed,” he said.
“If you can prevent yourself from coming down with the flu or COVID, it can help prevent you from looking into a hospital where beds are needed for other patients. Health care workers have been on it for more than 20 months. Everyone is tired and tired. It’s a personal protection when you get vaccinated, but it’s also about helping the community.”
Virks also stressed the importance of getting COVID-19 booster shots, and said travelers should avoid large gatherings and wear masks if they are at risk of serious consequences from infection with COVID-19.