Flu Season 2021: What to Expect Amongst Covid
Since early 2020, COVID-19 has been the center of attention. However, as fall approaches, you’ll hear more and more about the flu.
When Does Flu Season Start?
Flu season typically starts in November and runs through March, but it can start as early as October and last through May.
“Influenza is a serious virus, responsible for many hospitalizations and deaths every year,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Last year’s season was quiet; however, experts are concerned that this year will be tough.”
COVID-19 restrictions such as social distancing, more frequent handwashing, less travel and masking probably muted last year’s flu season, which researchers feared could be bad due to the pandemic. As a result flu diagnoses and hospitalizations were the lowest in 15 years.
Flu Season 2021
Ironically, those lower numbers could foretell a bad flu season for 2021-2022. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that reduced population immunity from last year’s light season could cause an early and severe flu season this year. With children returning to schools and people returning to offices, there’s more chance for the flu and other respiratory viruses to spread. With the U.S. still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, any uptick in flu hospitalizations could put additional pressure on health systems overwhelmed by COVID patients in ICUs and emergency rooms.
The population immunity provided by a normal season of infections provides a little extra boost that can help reduce the severity of the season. That extra boost won’t be part of the 2021-2022 season -- which is why many experts are predicting a bad flu season ahead.
What is in this Year's Flu Shots
There are different flu strains, scientists must come together each year to predict the predominant strains for the upcoming flu season. Most modern flu vaccines are quadrivalent – they are designed with four strains in mind.
This year’s flu shots include these strains of influenza:
- an A/Wisconsin/588/2019 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
- an A/Cambodia/e0826360/2020 (H3N2)-like virus
- a B/Washington/02/2019- like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
- a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage)
You’ve probably read a lot about vaccines in the last year. Flu shots are traditional vaccines – they use an inactivated or dead virus to produce an immune response in your body. This response prepares your immune system so that when it encounters the live virus, it can beat it back.
Talk to you doctor about getting a flu shot this year — flu shots help protect you against the season’s predominant strains of influenza.
“Hands down, the best way to protect yourself from contracting the flu is to get a flu shot,” says Kaminetsky. “Of course, you can supplement the vaccine by strengthening your immune system, helping lower your risk for the flu and other illnesses like colds and stomach bugs.”
Get Tested: Do I Have the Flu or Covid?
Influenza and COVID-19 have a lot of similar symptoms – sneezing, coughing, chest congestion, aches/pains and fever. However, each virus is treated differently. If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately. They may suggest you get a combined COVID-19 and flu swab test. This combined test panel is a lot more convenient than two separate tests and helps your doctor diagnose you and begin treatments quicker.
Strengthening Your Immune System
In addition to flu shots, it’s a good idea to try maintaining a strong immune system throughout the year but particularly during cold and flu season. Basic tenets for a strong immune system include getting good quality sleep, managing stress, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco and eating plenty of immune building foods. Here are a few easy dietary tips.
Add citrus and tropical fruits to your grocery list. Oranges, tangerines, clementines, grapefruits, lemons, limes, pineapples, papaya and kiwi are rich in vitamin C, a nutrient credited with supporting the immune system. Keep in mind, these fruits are nutritious, but high in sugar.
Season your food with garlic, ginger and turmeric. These herbs have powerful health benefits. Garlic helps ward off infections, while ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties.
Serve side dishes with spinach, broccoli and/or red bell pepper. These vegetables are high in nutrients such as antioxidants, which help slow cellular damage, ultimately, helping prevent diseases.
Snack on almonds and sunflower seeds as they’re high in vitamin E, another vitamin known for its immune boosting qualities.
Drink green tea. It’s high in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant that helps maintain immune function.
“The most important step you can take is to work with your primary care doctor. They can recommend which vaccines you should get, help you manage your chronic conditions and guide you in living a healthy lifestyle,” Kaminetsky says.
Don’t have a physician? Consider working with MDVIP. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »