Bracing for the upcoming flu season during a pandemic

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Across the country, it is anything but normal as people get used to living with their new normal. But with peak flu season on the horizon, the U.S. has another challenge up ahead: dealing with the coronavirus and the seasonal flu.

The potential challenge is felt across the country. In Herriman, Utah, cheerleaders in masks get ready for the first high school football game of the season.

A woman hugs her husband in Houston, Texas, as paramedics take him to the hospital after several family members test positive for COVID-19.

And in Hilliard, Ohio, Patricia Waters braces for an unconventional school year for her son, Alex, a seventh-grader who is nonverbal and lives with Cerebral Palsy.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Waters reflected.

People are just starting to deal with their new normal, but experts say once the weather turns cold we will have to do it all over again.

“With both of these viruses hitting our population together, we are greatly concerned with the risk of overwhelming our health system,” said Dr. Alain Labrique, infectious disease expert and professor at Johns Hopkins University. “Again, it raises its ugly head.”

He says respiratory viruses like coronavirus and the flu thrive in the colder months because people head inside and there’s less circulating air. He thinks coronavirus will greatly impact this year’s flu season.

“One of the concerns we have going into the flu season is what we’re looking at as the one-two punch, if you would, of the flu epidemic that happens every season and costs us tens of thousands of American lives every year combined with the ongoing epidemic of COVID-19,” Labrique explained.

Vaccine manufacturers will have extra flu vaccines on hand this season to reduce the spread of influenza, according to the CDC. In mid-August, 13.7 million doses went out nationwide. Federal health officials recommend people 6 months and older get the flu vaccine no later than October in order to give the shot time to work.

In Massachusetts, flu shots are required for all kids who attend kindergarten through high school and young adults attending colleges and universities.

The mandate prompted mixed reactions in the town of Chicopee, Massachusetts.

“I would much prefer my child to be protected and to protect the lives of other children as well. If that’s all we’ve got for now, why not just go for it,” mom Kim Avecdo said.

“If people want to get a flu shot, that’s their own opinion, that’s what they want to do,” said Francis Deschaine. “You can’t delegate we should have flu shots, especially our children.”

Despite differing public views on the shot, Labrique says his advice is simple.

“It’s really important that people this year make sure to go out and get their flu vaccine so at the very least we have a tool that we can use to reduce the burden of the flu epidemic that we know predictably happens every year,” said Labrique.

Also important to know is that it can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the seasonal flu. The symptoms are similar and can include a fever, chills, cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing

But according to the CDC, if a person has coronavirus, it could take longer for symptoms to develop — typically 5-14 days after infection. Flu symptoms usually show up 1-4 days after infection.

Either way, a test is needed but unlike the flu, there is still no vaccine available for coronavirus yet.

When asked what was deadlier, the flu or coronavirus, this was Labrique’s response.

“I think we don’t know the answer to that, but I think our current data suggests that it’s clearly at least five to 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu that we see on an annual basis,” Labrique said.

And Labrique thinks it will be around for years to come.

“Most experts currently agree that the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is likely to be circulating in human populations for years to come,” he said.

Flu season in the Southern Hemisphere has not been as bad as normal this year; experts say in part, it’s because people are wearing masks and social distancing.

However, it is too soon to tell if the same will be the case in the U.S., which is why the CDC is urging people to get vaccinated against the flu early.

Flu activity tends to increase in October. Peak of flu season is between December and February, but cases can continue through May.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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