How Bad Is Cold & Flu Season Going to Be This Year?

·5 min read

As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, another outbreak is scheduled for its annual arrival — the flu. The 2020 flu season was one of the lowest on record. The CDC reported 2,038 confirmed flu cases from Sept. 27, 2020 to April 24, 2021. In a typical flu season, the United States could see more than 9 million, yes million, cases a year. 

“Last year, we had almost no flu — and it’s not clear if that’s because everyone was masked and following protocols — or due to unprecedented vaccinations last year,” said Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, an emergency room physician. “I think we were also a little more germ careful. Instead of trying to go to work or school and power through a cold or flu, we had to stay home with any symptoms, meaning that there were just fewer germs circulating.”

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With last year’s record-breaking low numbers, mask mandates rapidly changing and people’s immune systems all over the place, we were curious what this year’s flu season might look like. We asked doctors what they anticipate and what they want you to know. 

What do doctors think this year’s flu season will look like?

Many are hopeful it will be similar to last year, but warn that without proper precautions, flu season could be harsh. Contracting the flu depends on the frequency, intensity and time of exposure according to Dr. Noah Greenspan, a cardiopulmonary physical therapist who specializes in cardiovascular, respiratory, complex medical and post-covid rehabilitation. In other words, the more you encounter the flu virus, the more likely you are to contract it.

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“The good news is that we have several tools at our disposal that can help us minimize the risk,” said Dr. Greenspan. “These include the same tools that we use to keep Covid at bay and include things like vaccinations or the flu shot, masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing. And since many of us are already doing many of those things. I am optimistic that we can have a favorable flu season.” 

Will more people be getting the flu shot this year?

Doctors say it could go either way. The CDC reported 189.4 million flu vaccines were distributed for the 2020-’21 flu season, compared to 174 million in the 2019-’20 season. 

With this slight increase in last year’s vaccination rates, health experts are hopeful that trend will continue, but can’t be sure. The flu shot is sometimes available as early as the end of August each year, but more often it becomes available in pharmacies and doctors’ offices in mid-September or early October. Regardless, doctors advise everyone to get their flu shot as soon as they can. 

“It’s possible to get the flu and Covid at the same time,” Dr. Gillespie said. “Which is a double-demand on the body and could overwhelm the immune system. It’s also important because if you have flu symptoms, you’re going to worry it’s Covid, so be set to quarantine.”

Dr. Amy Beckley adds that the flu shot is also 20 to 30% effective at helping prevent Covid-19. 

Will masking up make a difference?

Absolutely. Doctors agree that wearing a mask when you’re in public or around anyone who is sick or might be sick, is the best way to prevent contracting the flu. 

What are doctors anticipating for kids that are now back in school?

It comes down to what precautions are being taken. If a school district is in a county that has a mask mandate or enforces strict social distancing rules in classrooms, the number of flu cases is likely to be lower.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be colds or flu cases, but numbers will be lower in places that have higher mitigation efforts. 

“As a parent myself, I’m expecting to see plenty of colds as my kids return to school and also as more travel resumes for work and holidays,” said Dr. Alicia Jackson, Founder and CEO of Evernow. “I advise other parents to keep their children home if they have a fever and to make sure they and their children get a flu shot.”

If you’re concerned about your child’s health, doctors recommend working with the school to set up a specific health plan to ensure your child is as safe and healthy as possible. 

So, what are doctors advising you to do?

In short, keep practicing social distancing and masking rules whenever possible. Because we are approaching cold and flu season and still dealing with high Covid-19 case numbers, taking precautions everywhere you can is best. 

“My advice is always to err on the side of caution and to err on the side of an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of cure,” said Dr. Greenspan. “The other consideration is that if you do get the flu, you have a greater chance of winding up in a hospital, where not only are your chances of exposure to Covid higher, but you will also be increasing the strain on an already overtaxed healthcare system.”

The best news is that much of these things are in our control and all the same things that protect against COVID-19 also protect against colds and flu. Dr. Gillespie recommends implementing healthy lifestyle behaviors that positively impact your immune system. Drinking eight glasses of water a day, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep can help your body prepare for flu season. 

In short, doctors want what’s best for everyone. They recommend getting your flu shot as soon as possible and masking up whenever in public. 

Before you go, check out our favorite all-natural cold and flu remedies for kids:

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