Nevadans have spent the last six months worrying about COVID-19.
Now, get ready for flu season.
Fearing a “twindemic,” doctors are urging people to get the flu vaccine like never before. A big fear is a strain on local hospitals and ICU beds: Last flu season, 1,300 Nevadans died from the flu, pneumonia or a combination of the two.
"Because of the 'twindemic,' as people are calling it, there's a potential that with both COVID-19 as well as the influenza viruses circulating at the same time that that could put a tremendous strain on our health care system," said Dr. Cortland Lohff, acting chief medical officer for the Southern Nevada Health District. "So we want to make sure that we can do our best to try to prevent influenza from occurring by encouraging people to get vaccinated."
Lohff said, at this point in time, the COVID-19 pandemic is unpredictable because we don't know when a vaccine will be ready and no one is really sure if there will be another spike in cases.
However, the flu season is predictable and there is something we can all do to help protect against it.
"We're going to start seeing cases of influenza in our community as early as next month and we typically see peaks of influenza activity in January and February each year," Lohff said. "So, all the more reason why it's important that people get vaccinated against influenza."
Pointing to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as an example, Dr. Lohff said there could very well be a second wave of COVID-19 as the weather cools off, and if that happens during flu season, "we could have a major problem on our hands."
With people practicing social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently -- due to coronavirus health protocols -- there is a chance that the flu season could be less severe because those are the same safety measures that protect against the flu and other respiratory illnesses.
While health officials have long asked people to get vaccinated, Lohff admits there are some people who don't either because they don't think it really works or they feel it will actually get them sick.
Lohff notes that because the flu shot is not made with a live version of the virus it cannot make you sick. He said some people might get mild symptoms, like a fever or achiness at the injection site, but that is not the influenza infection.
Another concern for some people is the safety of the vaccine or not understanding the difference between a flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Lohff said people need to better understand vaccine safety and doctors can help with that education.
"I think that's on us as a public health department, as well as it's on other health care providers, to really try to do their best to educate people about both these diseases, as well as about the importance of influenza vaccine," he said.
Dr. Lohff said every year scientists work to develop the flu vaccine based on the best evidence they have of which strain of the influenza virus will circulate, but it is difficult to know exactly how severe the season will be and how effective the shot will be.
However, health officials agree that getting a flu shot will diminish the severity of the flu -- even if it doesn't fully protect against a particular strain of the virus.
Dr. Cortland Lohff, acting chief medical officer, Southern Nevada Health District