The COVID-19 situation in Bucks County seems to have stabilized, with new cases averaging about 30 per day. Hospitalizations and deaths remain at the lowest level since March, and transmission of the virus from one member of a household to another is the largest single source of new infections.
Despite what seems to be a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, health experts aren’t letting their guard down just yet. Many are predicting a second spike in COVID cases this winter and, with flu season waiting right around the corner, certain health precautions are recommended.
The Times recently spoke with Dr. Brad S. Friedmann, a family physician at St. Mary Medical Center since 1989, who encouraged everyone to receive a flu shot.
“The importance of getting a flu shot is, it’s going to heighten your immune system. It’s like the engine in your car revving at a higher rate,” said Friedmann. “While it’s not going to protect you from getting COVID, it may help boost your immune system so that if you were to come in contact with COVID, you may have the ability to fight it better.”
According to Friedmann, 63 million cases of the flu and 18,000 flu-related deaths were reported in the United States last year.
“Influenza is still a very significant problem,” he said. “It’s very important to get vaccinated, especially in older patients. As we get older, our immune systems do not work as well. Now, there are actually high-dose flu shots for seniors to help protect them better from influenza.”
Flu and COVID-19 symptoms, including fever and cough, are practically identical.
“It’s very, very difficult to be able to sometimes distinguish clinically whether a patient has COVID or influenza,” said Friedmann. “That’s important to know because there are some treatments. There’s no cure for influenza, but there are medications that can shorten the course of influenza if it’s caught early and diagnosed correctly.”
When asked whether somebody can have the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously, Friedmann said it’s very possible, but only time will tell how this novel virus interacts with other illnesses.
“If you have influenza and then get COVID, your immune system is going to be very weak. It’s going to make it much more challenging for that patient to be able to fight off COVID, and we know that COVID can be quite lethal,” he explained.
Friedmann stressed that no one can be forced to receive a flu shot, unless it’s required at their place of employment. Many of his patients are worried about getting sick from the vaccination, but he tells them they have a better chance of experiencing a car accident while driving to his office than having a negative side effect from the shot.
“Flu shots are generally safe. They’re generally well-tolerated,” Friedmann said. “I think the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
Mask-wearing, social distancing and other mitigation efforts continue to be practiced by the majority of the local population, and Friedmann, along with Bucks County Department of Health Director Dr. David Damsker, predicts this could be helpful throughout flu season.
“In theory, yes, they should be helpful. By people keeping their social distance, minimizing their exposure, whether it be COVID or influenza, it should help,” said Friedmann. “We may see less numbers this year, but I think it’s too soon to tell.”
For those planning to get a flu shot, the CDC recommendation is to do so as soon as possible. Flu season, said Friedmann, typically starts around Halloween and peaks in January/February. As long as someone receives the vaccination by Christmas, they should be protected. Flu shots are available at pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
“The bottom line is, we all should protect ourselves the best that we possibly can. You wouldn’t want to drive a car without wearing a seatbelt, and nowadays, you want to have airbags in your car to protect yourself from a car accident. Well, you have an opportunity to protect yourself from influenza and potentially improve your immune system to help fight COVID,” Friedmann said. “You’re helping yourself and you’re helping protect other people, too, and that’s what it’s all about. I can’t tell you when it’s going to get better. But I think if we all try to be good citizens and help each other out, which is what we should be doing, we’ll get to that end sooner as opposed to later.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org