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Health Team

'Twindemic' of coronavirus, flu worries health officials

Posted September 16, 2020 7:34 p.m. EDT

— As the annual flu season approaches, public health experts worry over the potential for a so-called "twindemic" of both the flu and the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals and health care providers.

The best step to help reduce the strain on medical workers is for as many people as possible to get a flu shot as early as possible, they said.

"Our already taxed health care system is now confronted with this sort of unprecedented double whammy of the upcoming flu in the fall converging with what we’re already experiencing with COVID," said Liz Hagan, senior policy manager for United States of Care, a nonprofit focused on expanding health care to all Americans.

Hagan was part of a virtual news conference featuring health experts from across the nation, including Duke University.

If both the flu and COVID-19 are circulating through the public at the same time, that could complicate diagnosis, they said.

"I think it’ll be harder to discern some of the changes and understand whether it’s COVID or flu as an early indicator using syndromic data," said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, a former leader of a global response team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shahpar now heads the Prevent Epidemics Team at Resolve to Save Lives, which helps governments and organizations implement public health strategies.

State officials need to have a plan to increase the number of people who get flu shots, he and other experts said.

"State leaders need to be clear in their communication about why protective measures such as mask wearing are necessary to keep people safe from flu and COVID," Hagan said.

United States of Care has put out guidance for state leaders on how to handle the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, she said.

"In a typical flu season, unfortunately only 50 percent of people get vaccinated, and the rates are even lower among communities of color," she said. "So, increasing this rate is essential both in minimizing the strain on our health care system and making sure people can actually stay safe."

Dr. Many Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said this week that more people across the state have already gotten flu shots this year than at the same point in last year's flu season.

DHHS also is about to launch its annual campaign to encourage people to get flu shots, officials said.

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