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COVID co-infections with other respiratory illnesses on the rise as flu season sets in

Simone Groper got her flu shot in January at a Walgreens pharmacy in San Francisco. Flu season will likely last a few more weeks, health officials say, and immunization can still minimize your chances of getting seriously sick.
Simone Groper got her flu shot in January at a Walgreens pharmacy in San Francisco. Flu season will likely last a few more weeks, health officials say, and immunization can still minimize your chances of getting seriously sick.
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Flu season is ramping up, but COVID-19 is still prolific in the community.

Tim Shelley speaks with Dr. Brian Curtis, OSF HealthCare's vice president of clinical specialty services, about what you need to know this fall.

DR. BRIAN CURTIS: Last year was a real mild flu season. I mean, we were still kind of shut down as a society, we were masking, social distancing. So that really contributed to really the lack of circulation of the influenza virus.

The concern we have going into this year is that we expect it to be, you know, a little worse than usual flu season. Because we're already seeing a little bit of flu. We've seen it circulate a little bit. So we're seeing some of these fall, winter viruses circulating kind of in the summer time period. And a lot of that, again, is because we weren't really circulating a lot in the winter, so then they're kind of circulating back again.

And then everything's opened back up, which I mean, that's good. People are masking for the most part again, which will help the spread of the influenza virus, but we do anticipate it being a busy flu season.

TIM SHELLEY: So with the COVID vaccine and the flu vaccine, is there any reason I should stagger those? So if I'm getting the COVID vaccine let's say today, can I get the flu vaccine tomorrow?

DR. BRIAN CURTIS: There's there's no reason to stagger vaccines, especially the COVID in the flu. The COVID, and the flu vaccine can be given at the same time. They can be given within a week of one another. And so really, there's no need to delay it. So if you're getting one vaccine, and they have the flu vaccine, you may as well just get both at the same time.

TIM SHELLEY: One other thing you mentioned (are) other respiratory illnesses you traditionally don't see you're in a summer. I know RSV, especially in kids, has been a really big one. What else have you been seeing?

DR. BRIAN CURTIS: You know, RSV is really kind of the big one we've been seeing. As it is a winter, a fall/winter virus, it infects adults and children. It just tends to be a little bit more serious in children because they have smaller airways than the adults.

And so it is a respiratory virus. We have really no treatment for it, and there's no vaccine for it. But there is ability, and we have seen co-infection with RSV and COVID in the kids. And so it is something we have been seeing over kind of the summer months.

TIM SHELLEY: Is that common, to see a co-infection of COVID and RSV?

DR. BRIAN CURTIS: When COVID first came out, we weren't seeing a lot of co-infections with COVID. It could have been that we were shut down as a society and social distancing and stuff like that.

Now that we are seeing that co infection with RSV and COVID... and that is our big fear for this winter is getting co-infected with influenza and COVID as influenza can be a deadly virus and has been demonstrated to be over over the years, and so actually having both on board can be very dangerous.

The blessing behind it is, is that we have vaccines for both. And so really it is increases the importance of people getting vaccinated this year for both illnesses.

TIM SHELLEY: If I have influenza and COVID, simultaneously; or RSV and COVID, simultaneously, how does that play out? How do I know, Yes, I have both? And how is that perhaps worse, or more substantial than just having one?

DR. BRIAN CURTIS: Well, you just have a double infection with two different viruses. And they can be upper respiratory viruses too. And so especially for people that have maybe a compromised immune system, or underlying health issues, it can having RSV or influenza by itself is dangerous.

The Delta variant of COVID has shown to be very dangerous, and non immunized people, even young people that are healthy. And you know, we've had plenty of people, young people in the hospitals based on that. And so really, you're having two viruses on board that by themselves are dangerous. And now you're just compounding the effort, and it can overwhelm your immune system.

TIM SHELLEY: With the flu vaccine, this is this is really the time to get it right now, isn't it?

DR. BRIAN CURTIS: So we are actually recommending that people get vaccinated by the end of November, which is usually about a month earlier than we usually do.

We're telling people to get out and get vaccinated now especially if you have a high risk medical condition. Heart failure, diabetes, COPD, you really should be getting vaccinated now.

And then people that are healthy can really wait until like next month to get it done. And it's really never too late to get vaccinated as long as we're in the flu season. And so just because you missed that window doesn't mean you shouldn't get it, you should still get it. You'll protect yourself and you'll protect others.