While COVID-19 continues to spread, health officials say residents should not forget about the impending flu season.

“I don’t think being co-infected with COVID and the flu would be very pleasant,” said Coastal Health District Director Dr. Lawton Davis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu season can run anywhere from October through March, but usually peaks in December through March. It has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 people a year in the U.S. over the last 10 years.

In an average flu season, the Southeast Georgia Health System might see a 10-15 percent increase in patients. While such an increase is usually manageable, the health system is also seeing a higher number of inpatients due to the coronavirus.

“Combine this with the demands of the ‘normal’ flu season, and there is a possibility that our resources could be strained,” said SGHS president and CEO Michael Scherneck. “However, with the renovation and expansion (of the Brunswick hospital) along with opportunities within our existing facility, we believe that we can deal with higher demand from a space perspective.

“Fortunately, the number of COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in our health system is significantly lower than the number of hospitalized patients in July.”

For this reason, Scherneck asked anyone living in or visiting the Golden Isles not to drop their guard on Labor Day or other fall and winter events.

Residents should continue to wear masks, keep a six-foot distance from others, regularly wash their hands and stay home if they feel sick.

Scherneck encouraged everyone to get a flu shot as well.

On the bright side, Davis said many of the precautions recommended for COVID-19 will also help defend against the flu.

“The flu is not quite as contagious as COVID-19, so the practices could be even more effective at limiting spread of the flu,” Davis said.

In the southern hemisphere, which is already well into its flu season those with strong health care systems that reacted to COVID, like New Zealand and Chile, saw a major impact as a result of mask-wearing and social distancing.

“They have basically wiped out their flu season,” Davis said. “They’ve almost not had one, and they’ve been in their peak.”

He recommended getting a shot after the first week of October, but said it’s “better to get it early than not get it at all.”

“The reason not to take it early is because the protective effect tends to wane after six to eight months (for older people),” Davis said. “If we have a late flu season, taking it early may put one at risk.”

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