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ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis infectious disease specialist says the COVID-19 surge makes getting your flu shot this year more important than ever. 

At SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital, doctors are worried about the upcoming flu season and its implications for hospitals that already are pushed to the limits of capacity due to the COVID-19 Delta variant. 

Last year, flu numbers were down because of masking and people staying home. Loosened mitigation strategies now could lead to an influenza season roaring back this year. 

“I personally have a lot of concern that with the not as strong mitigation efforts and with the Delta wave that we have it could shape up to be a pretty bad flu season or hospital utilization season,” said Dr. JoAnn Jose, infectious diseases specialist at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital.

“If you have a heart attack or a stroke right now, we want you to go to the hospital and get the care that you need. In order to make that possible, and to increase the chances that will be possible even with the Delta wave already in play, it’s really important to do what we can to mitigate the flu situation this year.” 

Dr. Jose says all St. Louis area hospitals are now preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. 

“So, we have a plan for what happens if we start to become overwhelmed, we have plans for staffing if some of our staff are sick or out, we have plans on how to test people when they come in with respiratory symptoms,” Dr. Jose said.

Flu season usually runs from October to spring with experts suggesting the best time to get vaccinated is early September. 

And Dr. Jose says you can get both the flu shot and COVID shot at the same time. 

“We have really good data that shows if you do get the flu despite being vaccinated your severity of illness is likely to be much less and the duration of the illness is less as well.” 
Doctors like to say if you’ve seen one flu season, you’ve seen one flu season — meaning every year starts and ends at different times with different strains and different severities of the influenza virus.

Doctors say the best protection is a flu shot and continued mitigation efforts such as wearing a mask.