The flu has all but disappeared over the last two years, due in large part to precautions taken by the public during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While flu season can be hard to predict, experts expect it to make a roaring comeback this fall.

Christopher Penn, MD

Christopher Penn, MD

“Predictions about the severity of upcoming flu seasons are made based on virus activity in the southern hemisphere,” said Christopher Penn, MD, an infectious disease physician with LMH Health’s Internal Medicine Group. “Australia had a particularly difficult year related to influenza infections, so we expect to see much of the same in the United States.”

We’re already beginning to see increases in flu activity across much of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As more people relax their COVID-19 precautions and discontinue wearing masks, this will lead to a higher rate of illness due to the flu and other respiratory viruses.

“There’s a potential that we may see what’s been referred to as a ‘twindemic,’ with high rates of the flu and a spike in COVID-19 cases,” Dr. Penn explained. “It’s an ongoing concern, especially as we’ve already started seeing co-infections with COVID-19 and RSV in children.”

Watch out for symptoms

If you’ve got a cough or feel a little achy, should you be worried that you’ve got the flu? Could it be COVID-19?

“Many of the typical flu symptoms overlap with other viral respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19,” Dr. Penn explained. “Generalized achiness, fever and cough are the most common symptoms and are usually more severe than the typical seasonal cold.”

If you find that you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to seek medical care. You may need to be tested for both the flu and COVID-19. But where should you go?

“The best place to start is with your primary care provider. If you don’t have one, there are a number of walk-in clinics in the area such as First Med,” Dr. Penn said. “In either case, make sure you call the clinic before heading in so you can let them know you’re experiencing symptoms.”

Avoid the emergency department unless you’re experiencing severe symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Skin or lips with a bluish tint
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness or frequent dizzy spells
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Get vaccinated

It can be difficult to manage the flu, especially for older adults and young children. You can help protect yourself and, at the same time, ease the burden on the healthcare system this fall and winter by taking some simple steps.

Dr. Penn stressed the importance of following guidelines regarding wearing a mask, practicing good hand hygiene and getting plenty of sleep. You should also know your risk factors and if you’re feeling ill, stay home. One of the most important actions you can take right now is to get the influenza vaccine.

“We recommend getting the flu vaccine in October, but it’s not too late to get one and increase your protection from the virus. It can be given along with the COVID-19 bivalent booster, so you can get both at the same time,” Dr. Penn explained.

Chris Lawrenz, LMH Health pharmacy director, agreed that getting vaccinated against the flu is key.

“Much like you wouldn’t play football without a helmet and pads, you shouldn’t face the flu season without a vaccine,” she said. “Think of vaccines as your protective gear. You might still get tackled by the virus but the risk of it causing hospitalization and severe illness is greatly reduced,” she said.

Unfortunately, people at higher risk for flu infection or serious complications aren’t being adequately vaccinated. These include patients and healthcare personnel in long-term or nursing care, adults 65 and older and adults of any age with certain underlying health conditions.

The most recent data available from the CDC for the 2020-21 influenza season shows vaccination coverage of:

  • Approximately 41% among non-Hispanic Black (NHB) and Hispanic adults
  • Approximately 51% of adults ages 18-64 who have diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease or cancer
  • Approximately 75% among adults 65 and older (69% NHB and 64% Hispanic)
  • Approximately 76% among healthcare personnel overall

“The vaccine is made with an inactive version of the flu virus, which means that it’s not infectious. You may experience side effects like a headache, muscle aches or a mild fever, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got the flu,” she said.

Once you get vaccinated, you’ll have good protection against the flu in about two weeks. The flu shot provides protection for 4-6 months, though the length can vary and depends on the strength of your immune system.

You can get a flu vaccine from your primary care provider, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and many local pharmacies. Visit to find a location near you.

“Getting a flu vaccine is a safe, easy way to do your part to fight the flu. Do it to protect yourself, your loved ones and the community,” Lawrenz said. 

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