Covid-19, novel coronavirus 2019
Novel Coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) (CDC Image)

MONTEREY COUNTY — Officials with Monterey County Health Department and local hospitals urged the public to get flu shots in time for the upcoming flu season during a media briefing Oct. 21.

Representatives from Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System and Natividad Medical Center in Salinas and Mee Memorial Healthcare System in King City participated in the discussion. Their goal is to avoid complications of having a flu season at the same time as the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Every year we see literally millions of Americans come down with influenza,” said Dr. Martha Blum, medical director at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She noted the annual deaths vary, but “some years it can be as high as 60,000 people die of influenza. That was how it was in that terrible 2017-18 flu season we had just a couple years ago.”

Blum said flu season typically starts at the end of October or first week of November and lasts until the end of April.

“In our area, we usually hit peak flu-related activity and illness around the end of January,” Blum said. “In the last several years, we have seen sharp increases around holiday time, particularly starting the last week of December.”

The flu is similar to Covid-19 in that it spreads with close contact and large gatherings. Blum said the symptoms for flu and Covid-19 overlap, including fever, shortness of breath, dry cough, body aches, stomach symptoms, sore throat, fatigue and runny nose.

“There’s really not going to be any way to tell definitively whether your symptoms are from influenza or coronavirus or perhaps some other respiratory virus, unless you get a test done,” she said.

One of the few differences between the two infections that may indicate someone merely has the flu is rapid onset.

“People describe one minute they felt just fine, and within an hour, they started feeling absolutely miserable,” Blum said. “The rapid onset is pretty typical for flu, but is not typical for coronavirus, which tends to be a far more progressive, slowly developing illness.”

Loss of taste and smell is very particular to coronavirus and doesn’t seem to happen with influenza, Blum said.

“Influenza in particular can cause severe disease in young children, while that does not appear to be the case with coronavirus,” she added about other differences.

Carla Spencer, a registered nurse with Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, said if someone wonders if they should get a flu vaccine, the answer is “absolutely yes.”

“This is something we get every year, and we know it’s going to come again this year,” Spencer said. “You should get the flu vaccine and you should get it now.”

According to Spencer, all the Covid-19 precautions give a unique advantage this year, since methods of reducing Covid-19 infection also reduce the spread of the flu.

Spencer said area hospitals are already prepared to handle both the flu and Covid-19, and have testing abilities for both to be able to tell which one a person has if they come in for care.

“If you feel your symptoms are serious, we don’t want you to avoid seeing your doctor,” said Dr. Craig Walls, chief medical officer at Natividad Hospital. “Some of the symptoms that we worry about are severe shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion, trouble staying awake, blue color to the lips or face.”

Walls said emergency departments are safe places to be in response to potential concerns with avoiding hospitals for fear of further infection.

“We don’t want you to delay care and let something that could be very treatable go without treatment because of an undue concern about risk being in the emergency department,” he said.

Dr. Nesreen Khraisha, an infectious disease specialist at Mee Memorial Hospital, ended the discussion by talking about quarantining.

The process of quarantines allows health officials to identify infectious individuals, Khraisha said.

“We want to separate those persons from the rest of the community,” Khraisha said.

People who should be quarantined, she said, include “those who have symptoms, have been in contact with someone who has symptoms, or are taking care of someone with symptoms.”

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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