There’s a reason National Handwashing Awareness Week occurs each year in early December. It’s to remind us all how important this healthy habit is before we reach the peak of the flu season. Washing your hands regularly is a great way to help keep influenza from spreading, but it’s taking on a whole new meaning this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And now that flu season is here, you may be worried about the double whammy of influenza and COVID-19. The virus that causes the disease is likely to continue circulating through the population until there is a vaccine. And the peak of the flu season is still several weeks away.
So, let’s get a better understanding of when flu season peaks, how it may be impacted by the pandemic, and what you can do to protect you and your family from both.
Epidemiologists at Harvard University are worried about a worst-case scenario. That would occur if both the coronavirus and the flu are spreading fast and causing severe disease. This may not only complicate diagnoses, but it may present a double burden on the healthcare system at a time when hospitals are almost at capacity.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, there were roughly 51 million cases of the flu last season, which led to hundreds of thousands of hospital admissions and up to 55,000 deaths. You can imagine the trouble it may cause this year. If thousands of people are being hospitalized for coronavirus and thousands of others for the flu.
The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalizations and deaths) of a flu season varies from season to season. But flu season typically begins in October, peaks between December and February, and lasts well into March, although activity can last as late as May.
February is a historically bad month for influenza. Partly because we’re inside much more often, which increases the chance of passing it around. And research shows that flu viruses are more stable in cold air and the low humidity allows the virus particles to remain in the air.
Getting a flu shot is a great place to start. There is not a vaccine for coronavirus yet, so you can at least protect yourself from influenza by getting vaccinated.
Wearing a mask will help protect you and those around you as well. Regularly washing your hands will help prevent the spread of both flu and coronavirus. The CDC provides these tips to make sure you’re doing it correctly every time:
You can sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while washing your hands. That will help you to ensure you’re washing for 20 seconds.
To get the flu shot, contact your North Ohio Heart/Ohio Medical Group primary care physician, or if you don’t have one, you can find a doctor online.
And for tips on the most effective ways to prevent the flu and coronavirus, warning signs of flu-like symptoms compared to COVID-19, and what you can do in your daily life to decrease your risk of getting both, you can check out our infographic, “Flu vs. Coronavirus.” If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, please make an appointment with your doctor immediately.