Missouri doctors concerned about COVID, flu season impact on hospital capacity

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the weather starts to change, concerns about virus numbers increase. Experts are worried about hospital capacity with not only flu season this year, but COVID-19 as well.

Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Dr. Randall Williams said this year’s flu shot is more important than years past.

Williams said the state is preparing to have additional hospitalizations this year due to the infectious diseases.

“In a traditional year from October to May, it’s the flu and we know that hospitalizations go up, but this year, it’s going to be COVID and the flu,” Williams said. “Headaches, muscle aches, fever, cough, running nose, you can see that with colds, COVID, or the flu.”

Williams said COVID can be much more subtle than the flu.

“Normally it (the flu) hits you like a ton of bricks,” Williams said. “Fever of 102, you just want to go to bed and you have the chills. There are two symptoms that if you probably do have, it’s COVID and that’s the loss of taste and the loss of smell. You don’t see that with the flu.”

“We want people to be as healthy as they can in this moment of time in Missouri and the one way to do that is to get a flu shot,” Williams said. “First off, we don’t want you to have two diseases. We don’t want you to have the flu and COVID.”

Pediatric infectious disease expert at MU Health Care in Columbia Dr. Christelle Ilboudo said this year’s flu vaccine is different than last year.

“The reason to get the flu vaccine every year is because of the little changes that the virus goes through that would tweak the vaccine a bit to be protected,” Ilboudo said.

She said the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are similar, making it harder on the health care system.

“So, if you were to get really sick this season but we cannot tell the difference between COVID-19 and influenza from the get-go because the symptoms are very similar, if you’re one of those people who end up getting hospitalized, it’s easier for us to know, okay changes are more likely to have COVID-19 or another virus than the flu,” Ilboudo said. “It can help us in terms of diagnosing and treating initially until we know what someone has.”

Ilboudo said it is possible for a person to have COVID and the flu at the same time.

“Get the flu shot,” Ilboudo said. “If not for you, then the people around you. Not just to protect yourself but to protect those around you who could be more likely to get sick if they were to get influenza.”

“Do you see how that would help us tremendously if you get your flu shot?” Williams said. “It helps us take at least one of those somewhat off the table, not completely.”

Williams said he’s concerned about hospital capacity and equipment.

“So, it helps us tremendously in our hospitals and our physicians and our policymakers if we can decrease the amount of hospitalizations and ICU beds and ventilator capacity that are being used by two different infectious diseases,” Williams said.

Ilboudo said after someone gets the flu vaccine, it takes two weeks to kick in. She also said there is a chance there is a decrease in the number of flu cases this year if people continue to wear their masks, social distance, wash their hands, and get the flu vaccine.

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