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COVID-19, flu season could create a dangerous situation

Posted at 4:18 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 10:41:56-05

Like even the most knowledgeable researchers, Dr. Michelle Barron doesn't have every answer as we enter our worst stretch of the pandemic.

"How much is this going to play into things and is it just going to make everything worse?" asked Dr. Barron. "Is it going to comingle with COVID and actually make people double sick or doubly ill?"

The COVID-19 pandemic is coinciding with flu season, a potentially dangerous scenario Dr. Barron has given much thought to as the senior medical director of infection prevention and control at one of Colorado's largest hospitals.

"We've been really encouraging our patients to get their flu shots and make sure they have that on their list," said Dr. Barron. "We understand that there are some years that you're debating whether or not it's worth it, and we're like this is the year you need to get it."

The CDC estimates around 196 million flu shots are available this year, a 13% increase from last year's record-setting dosage of 175 million.

"Flu shot immunization is up 4`1%, so I think that message has really taken hold," said Dr. Barron.

It is an important number, as last year 400,000 people were hospitalized for the flu, a potential burden hospitals have prepared for as bed space is now at a premium.

"We've already surpassed the numbers of the first surge, so now we're like what's next," said Maddie Smith, a nurse at a COVID ICU in University of Colorado's hospital.

Smith says that while they haven't reached a tipping point, they are expected more flu patients to come in as the winter months arrive. To manage, they've made plans to allocate more bed space to the seriously ill, regardless of cause, and treat them with whatever drugs are necessary.

The good news, the flu has been treated for years so doctors have a good plan of attack. The measures we've taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are having a positive effect on the spread of the flu.

"We usually are able to use the southern hemisphere as a good way to figure out what our flu season is going to look like," said Dr. Barron. "They actually had a pretty mild flu season, but COVID hit at the exact same time."

Dr. Barron says 3 to 5% of COVID-19 patients have had co-infection with another virus. This shows complications are possible as flu season hits its stride, but not guaranteed.