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Cold and flu season during a pandemic

For the nearly four decades that Gary Salzman, MD has treated patients at Truman Medical Centers/University Health, he’s advised his patients to get the influenza vaccine, or flu shot.

“We usually see a significant number of cases and some of those people are sick and end up in the Intensive Care Unit. So flu is still a major problem. People still die from the flu,” said Dr. Salzman, who serves as Head of Pulmonology and Critical Care at TMC/UH.

During the 2020 flu season, which started last fall and into winter, health officials placed even more emphasis on the influenza vaccine. The reasoning? If hospitals were going to be filled with COVID-19 patients, there might not be enough resources to care for both COVID and influenza patients.

Luckily, patients listened. They got their flu shot, wore masks and socially distanced. Dr. Salzman did not treat a single case of influenza last season.

But this year, health officials worry people might let down their guard, allowing the flu to make a comeback.

“Definitely I think everyone should get the flu vaccine. I think it’ll be protective and we’ll avoid this possibility of being exposed to both COVID-19 and the flu. The flu shot will not only protect them, but also protect their friends and family. Because if an individual gets the flu, they can easily pass it on to other people,” said Salzman.

The doctor says last year, social distancing and masking dramatically reduced the number of young children who were suffering from RSV or respiratory syncytical virus, a virus that causes cold-like symptoms. But right now pediatricians are seeing a spike because children are playing and learning together, unmasked.

Salzman says the biggest difference between COVID-19 and a common cold is a fever. “A temperature over 100.4 degrees would more likely be influenza or COVID,” he explained. “Also a cold is not going to give you a lot of coughing. Some mild coughing, but it’s mainly a running nose and sore throat.”

As always, if you’re concerned your child isn’t getting better, call your pediatrician. Dr. Salzman says it takes just one test to check for both COVID and influenza.