Written By John Ferrari
It’s still feels like summer in Southern California but fall is fast
approaching and with it flu season. It’s always a good idea to protect
yourself from influenza, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting
the region, staying healthy this flu season is more important than ever.
Advantage asked Torrance Memorial Physician Network internal medicine
physician Dr. Rumi Cader to cover some of the basics about the flu, and
what we know – and don’t know – about how COVID-19 might
affect this year’s flu season. Dr. Cader is board certified in internal
medicine and holds a Master of Public Health Degree, specializing in epidemiology.
Q: Why is there a flu season?
A: Flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. There’s
always some level of flu circulating in the country, and the incidence
of flu usually starts to rise in October. Unfortunately, the flu virus
mutates, so there’s a different strain each year. That’s why
it’s important to get your flu vaccine every year.
Q: How much does the flu vaccine help?
A: The efficacy varies from year to year. It can reduce your risk of catching
the flu anywhere from a low of 20% to 30%, up to 60% to 70%, which is
what we hope for. Each year epidemiologists track which flu strain seems
to be emerging, and the annual flu vaccine is prepared to protect against
that strain. What’s also important to note is patients who get the
flu shot, even if it’s a shot for a different strain, typically
get less severe symptoms. So the vaccine will help protect you from the
flu, but even if you do end up with the flu, if you’ve gotten your
flu shot for the year it won’t be as bad.
Q: What can people do to protect themselves from the flu, apart from getting
the current flu vaccine?
A: Avoid potentially sick friends and family. Typically there are around
30,000 deaths per year from the flu. It’s a significant disease
in its own right, especially for the elderly and those with underlying
Q: What do you anticipate might be different this year, with COVID-19 still active?
A: I’d say wearing a mask is a prudent thing to do.
Q: Do we know anything about how the flu and COVID-19 might interact?
A: There’s only anecdotal evidence at this point. We had a patient,
very early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, who tested positive for both COVID-19
and influenza. That patient recovered very well and did not require hospitalization.
The patient was young and didn’t have any other medical issues,
which certainly helped, but we really can’t say how COVID-19 and
influenza may interact. It may be different for different individuals.
Q: What extra or different precautions should people take this year?
A: Wash your hands frequently, or if you’re in a situation where
you can’t wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, use hand
sanitizer. Wiping surfaces is prudent too.
Q: When will this year’s flu vaccine be available?
A: The flu vaccine is currently available at all of our Torrance Memorial
Physician Network Primary Care and Urgent Care offices. The Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) typically recommends getting the flu vaccine in
October for optimal immunological response – October to February
is peak flu season – but this year the CDC recommends getting the
vaccine in September, and I think that’s the safer course of action.
Rumi Cader, MD, is an internal medicine physician at Torrance Memorial Physician Network
in Torrance at 3701 Skypark Drive, Ste. 100. He can be reached at (310) 378-2234.