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HEALTHBEAT 4: Doctors prepare for flu and COVID-19 season

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SERGEANT BLUFF, Iowa (KTIV) -- It's going to be a busy season for doctors across Siouxland as they brace themselves for the flu and COVID-19.

On top of wearing masks and social distancing, a key preventative measure going into this season: the flu shot.

The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. The current flu activity level is minimal in all three Siouxland states right now.

"There's a lot of preparation that has been going on and a lot of planning that has been going on of how do we handle a flu season during an active pandemic with a virus that can cause similar symptoms," said Jason Losee, UnityPoint Clinic Family Medicine Physician. "That's pretty difficult."

Preparing for this year's season is something Dr. Jason Losee said is incredibly important. But, one of the biggest struggles they'll face is deciphering between COVID-19 and the flu.

"The symptoms can be indistinguishable," said Dr. Losee. "We can have a fever, we can have body aches, we can have a cough, we can have a soar throat, we can have fatigue."

That's why Dr. Losee said if someone has those symptoms, they would test for both influenza and COVID-19. One key distinguisher though is the loss of taste or smell...a symptom often associated with COVID-19.

"Where it's not just 'I'm stuffy and I can't taste very well,' it's, 'wow I'm not stuffy necessarily and I really can't taste or smell anything," said Dr. Losee.

Dr. Losee said they're going to do their best though to distinguish between the two, with tests. Because for them, it's important to see exactly how many individuals are confirmed COVID-19 cases.

"Getting tested will really help us to know, are COVID-19 cases really going up with cold and flu season or are they not," said Dr. Losee.

He said that's important to know so experts can track the cases to see how hard a community is being hit by COVID-19.

To best prepare yourself for this unique virus season, Dr. Losee said that flu shots will be more important than ever.

"The flu shot decreases somebody's chance of catching influenza by about half each year," said Dr. Losee. "If a good number of the population get that vaccine, then it does overall dramatically decreasing how likely other people are to be exposed."

Dr. Losee said they like to make sure everyone gets the shot before the peak of cases which usually hits in December or January. Dr. Losee said it's recommended that people get the flu shot before Oct. 31.

It is safe to get the shot now. He said they're taking many precautions to make sure it's a healthy environment for patients.

Everyone six months and older can get a yearly flu vaccine. It's also safe for pregnant women to get the shot. But, those under six months are too young and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to a flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not get it.

Michaela Feldmann

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