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Newell: It's not too late to get a flu shot, and you should

The fewer people with common flu, the easier the fight against COVID-19

Newell Normand
March 19, 2020 - 4:52 pm

The White House Coronavirus Task Force reports that they have some encouraging news as it relates to a malaria drug that can possibly be used in treating patients who test positive for coronavirus. Trial work continues and hopefully something fruitful comes from it in the very near future. To better understand this development and answer listener questions about the spread of coronavirus, Newell invited LSU Health Care Services CEO Dr. Rebekah Gee onto the program Thursday afternoon. 

“You heard the news today,” Newell began. “Where do we go from here? What can we expect to happen over the next ten to fifteen days?”

“We know now that we have widespread COVID-19 in the New Orleans region,” Gee said. “We just had Mardi Gras, lots of opportunities for people to interact with each other there, and not only people from New Orleans but around the world. What we’re starting to see is the beginning of those case upticks, and in the next several weeks we will see the worst of it and hope that after that it goes down. All these measures we put into place, like social distancing and closing schools, those were necessary and extremely important. One thing that gives us hope is what’s happening in other countries; China had no new cases today, South Korea, Singapore… All of those are roadmaps for us to understand how we fight this virus and we need to learn those lessons and implement those strategies.”

“This pandemic has revealed a lot of frailties in the healthcare delivery system,” Newell continued. “Moving forward, do you think it needs to take on more of a national presence, where you don't have this fragmentation with so many different approaches being taken? The differential in timing and so many other issues seem to have really worked to our detriment.”

“What this has exposed is that we have not invested the money and the people that we should have into public health,” Gee answered. “The cuts that happened under the Jindal administration, for example, there were 500 nurses fired, and we could surely use those nurses today. The silver lining is that we will better appreciate the role of public health professionals and scientists, and we need to coordinate their efforts and make those investments, certainly at the national level. We need to do a better job at the national level with tracking, deploying personal protective equipment and better deploy our assets. We will need to do more central planning similar to what they’ve done in Singapore and China. That’s not typical of the US, we do have the US Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control. We have a history in Louisiana of working with our federal partners when there’s a disaster, and those efforts need to continue and be bolstered by the private sector.”

“Coming back to the community level, we deal with the influenza almost every year, and it has a significant impact in terms of both illness and deaths,” Newell said. “We have both flu and coronavirus happening at the same time now. As a treating physician, what advice can you give to patients as they try to self-assess when they need to pull the trigger and go to the hospital? Some of the symptoms are the same, right?”

“If anything, this situation should encourage everyone to get their flu vaccine,” Gee said. “Flu is still important and it’s not too late to get that shot. As to the difference between the flu and COVID-19, they have similar qualities. Flu can have a fever with it, as can the common cold, and fever is any temperature higher than 100.4 degrees. Flu can also have GI symptoms. Flu affects children more often than coronavirus, and that flu can come with cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue, and flu has the vomiting and diarrhea that is not associated with coronavirus. Coronavirus has very similar symptoms like fever and tiredness, the dry cough is very common, as is shortness of breath. Many people are having symptoms from all the pollen outside, those allergy-like symptoms like sneezing, wheezing and coughing. If you get those this type of year, consider that and don't get overly concerned if you’re not feeling overly fatigued and don't have a fever.”

“Some listeners are asking - if you get the flu shot, does that actually lower your immune system?” Newell asked.

“No, the flu shot helps your immune system respond to the flu,” Gee replied. “What we don’t want is for people to get the flu because they refused a shot, and then getting sick and needing a hospital bed that could go to someone with COVID-19. The reason people need to get the flu shot is so they don’t get sick and take up resources we need to fight coronavirus. That’s important right now.”

Hear the entire segment, including calls from listeners, in the audio player below.

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