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COVID Precautions Help Reduce Spread Of Influenza, But Experts Say You Should Still Get The Flu Shot

(CBS4) -- With the coronavirus pandemic dominating the headlines, it's easy to forget we are right in the middle of flu season. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 3,546 Coloradans were hospitalized during the 2019-2020 season (Sept. 29, 2019-May 23, 2020.)

Meanwhile, since September 2020, Colorado has had only 18 flu hospitalizations total.

Dr. Mark Montano is the Medical Director of CareNow Urgent Care Clinics. He says wearing masks and social distancing is also keeping the flu from spreading.

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Dr. Mark Montano (credit: CBS)

"Usually those are spread by us touching our face, rubbing our nose or our eyes and then touching objects around us or shaking hands so all of the things we're doing to keep safe for COVID-19, definitely keep us safe from influenza."

This fall, doctors were concerned of a "twindemic"—an outbreak of flu and coronavirus at the same time. That's why even Gov. Jared Polis stressed the importance of getting a flu vaccine. Dr. Montano says while September and October are the ideal time to get the shot, it's not too late.

flu shot
(credit: CBS)

"The flu shot is typically effective for eight to nine months, which is why we don't recommend getting the flu shot too early in the summer," says Dr. Montano. "We usually recommend getting the flu shot through January, but it's helpful really anytime influenza is active. So if it is active later in the year, even if it's February or March, we might recommend getting a flu shot."

Seniors will get a different flu shot than the one given to the general public. The vaccine for older adults contains four times more antigens.

"By giving them more of that antigen, we can stimulate their immune system to make a better immune response down the road," says Dr. Montano.

So how effective is the flu shot? Dr. Montano says it varies from year to year.

"What we do is in the year preceding we look forward and we say, what strains do we think will be going through the United States? And so there is a little bit of educated guessing, so to speak, as to what might be coming down the next few flu year, so we don't always hit the nail on the head," says Dr. Montano, adding, "It's always better to have some protection, so I always recommend getting the flu shot, even though it's not always a perfect match for the strains which are going around."

Remember, the flu and the coronavirus have very similar symptoms. Dr. Montano says if you are feeling ill, you should ask your doctor for both a flu and a coronavirus test as soon as possible.

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