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Which is deadlier, seasonal flu or COVID-19? Why experts say the flu shot is so important this year

Health officials are worried about a "twindemic."

AUSTIN, Texas — Through the eyes of a medical illustrator, the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 look alike in many ways. And their symptoms can appear similar. Both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses with coughs, fever and lung congestion. 

But COVID-19 can have far more serious effects on the body through secondary infections. And COVID-19 carries a higher death rate: 3% to 4% compared to less than 0.01% for the seasonal flu, according to the World Health Organization.

With flu season getting underway soon, health experts are worried that on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may be facing what they call a "twindemic."

"Every year in America, about 40 million people get the flu," said Dr. Coburn Allen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Dell Medical School. "So, it's very confusing to try and make sense of who has COVID and who has the flu in the middle of a season that has both."

   

According to a news release from Dell Medical School, COVID-19, like the flu, spreads via tiny droplets that shoot through the air when people cough, sneeze or talk. Dr. Allen said the flu vaccine will help reduce the number of severe flu cases that may require hospitalization, allowing health care workers to focus their efforts on caring for coronavirus patients.

"The flu vaccine works. We know that it prevents about 40 to 60% of cases, on average," Dr. Allen said. "It's not perfect, but when you look at the severe cases, it decreases hospitalizations significantly."

The benefits are even starker in children, Dr. Allen said. They are about 50% less likely to die from the flu if they’ve been vaccinated for the virus.

Although experts say everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot, especially those in high-risk groups. That includes adults over 65 years old, those with underlying conditions like heart disease, pregnant women, caretakers and essential workers.

WATCH: Drive-thru flu shots in Austin

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