Doctors say you can have COVID-19 and flu at the same time

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MILWAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) - Doctors say people can get both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, and with colder temperatures ahead of us flu season is just around the corner.

Dr. Mary Beth Graham says the flu attacks your upper respiratory tract more so, while COVID-19 attacks both the upper and lower areas. She says having both would be a double whammy for your body.

As of now there’s already one case of influenza in the state.

“You can get flu and COVID-19 at the same time,” said Dr. Mary Beth Graham, an infectious disease specialist at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

If getting both the flu and COVID-19 isn’t bad enough, Dr. Graham says there’s a chance bacterial pneumonia could also come into the mix.

“Just having a respiratory illness can actually make people at more risk for certain types of bacterial infections,” she added.

Flu symptoms include fever and chills, while COVID-19 symptoms vary from shortness of breath to stomach problems.

“It’s a magnified type situation, not only do you have the fever, myalgia, etcetera with the flu, but one of those other manifestations of COVID-19,  whether it be the profound shortness of breath that we see with some patients versus the diarrhea,” said Dr. Graham.

Dr. Graham says the coinfection can complicate matters, and people who have both at the same time may end up needing to get on oxygen.

Last year only 42-percent of eligible people got the flu shot in Wisconsin, she says it’s one way to protect yourself this season.

“Even if it doesn’t 100-percent prevent somebody from getting influenza it usually definitely diminishes the symptoms,” Dr. Graham said.

Locally-owned pharmacy chain Hayat Pharmacy says they expect more people willing to get the flu shot this season.

“We do about 500 to 1,000 per year depending on the year, but this year we do anticipate to do a lot more,” said Hashim Zaibak, CEO of Hayat Pharmacy.

Zaibak says they have the flu shots ready, and say their supply chain is able to send more if needed.

“This year is a lot more important because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zaibak added.

Even with the threat of flu and COVID-19 looming, there is a silver lining. Dr. Graham expects flu numbers to be lower this year due to pandemic safety measures. She also says indicators from the southern hemisphere showed very low flu numbers.

“Social distancing, our masking, etc., that should cut down on influenza quite a bit, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to get your flu shot,” she added.

Dr. Graham says you want to get the flu shot by the end of October, because you’ll need two weeks for your body to respond. She says there’s no reason to wait.

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