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As Flu Season Looms, Experts Warn of "Twindemic"

Doctor in a mask
Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, Chair of Infectious Disease at VCU Health. (Photo: VCU Health)

With the total number of COVID-19 deaths surpassing 200,000 and flu season coming, medical experts are concerned about what they call a “twindemic.” 

Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, chair of infectious disease at VCU Health, said the combination of COVID-19 and seasonal flu could overwhelm the system: “It’s nearly impossible for a physician to tell the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal influenza.”

“That’s a problem because if you are unable to triage it well over the telephone, then the answer, the default is, you need to go to the urgent care center and get assessed, go to the emergency room and get assessed, go to the hospital and get assessed or go to the primary care office to be formally assessed there and that to lead to a large congregation of patients," Bearman said.

He said the best way to prevent that is to continue social distancing, wearing a face mask for your own protection and the protection of others, and maintaining good hygiene.  He said getting a flu vaccine is important, too. Although it does not prevent getting COVID-19, it does prevent an additional respiratory virus.

With coronavirus cases trending up, people seeming tired of masks and social distancing, schools reopening and now flu season, some experts say death rates could double. Bearman says without a cure, everyone needs to work together to prevent drastic outcomes.

“We still need to look at this pandemic as a collective challenge, something that we, all of us, have a role to play, just like the response to any other threat," he said. "In doing so, we have to be mindful that when we don’t have better options, such as better treatments or even vaccines available at the time, you really have to focus on the simple things, which is wearing a mask and washing your hands.”

In addition to rest and good hydration, Bearman said, “Here’s the message that I repeat over and over. If you are a smoker, please stop smoking. It significantly heightens the risk of infections with viral respiratory pathogens.”

And he said those who are recommended for flu shots should get them in early October.

VCU’s Health is a sponsor of VPM.