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'Twindemic' fears are real, but flu overload is preventable, doctors say

If people continue to social distance and wear masks, it could also slow the spread of the flu.

TAMPA, Fla — With less than one month until the typical start of flu season and COVID-19 still spreading, doctors worry managing both viruses could overload our health care systems. 

However, other parts of the world are showing a so-called "twindemic" could be preventable.

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"If people begin to do the things that we're asking them to do to prevent the spread of coronavirus, that essentially significantly cuts down on the spread of the influenza virus as well,” said Dr. Kevin Sneed of the Taneja College of Pharmacy at the University of South Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield recently told the American Medical Association this could be one of our least destructive flu seasons. Doctors say one indicator of this comes from parts of the southern hemisphere, which just wrapped up a significantly lighter flu season this year. 

Experts hope that is a good sign for us here up north.

"If people begin to do the things that we're asking them to do to prevent the spread of coronavirus, that essentially could significantly cut down on the spread of the influenza virus as well," Sneed said.

So, wearing masks and social distancing is still key. That's because according to the CDC, the flu and coronavirus spread in similar ways: mostly by droplets that spread when a sick person coughs, sneezes or talks -- and it infects someone in close contact. That is why doctors say flu vaccines will be more important than ever this season.

"We want as many people out in the public getting their flu vaccine this year as early as they can heading into a possible serious twindemic,” Sneed said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the 2020 Virtual National Health Research Forum on Tuesday if there is a full-blown flu season alongside the pandemic, we'll face serious challenges.

"One, is differentiating between COVID and flu because there are medications for flu and we're getting more and more medications for COVID,” he said. “Number two, we wouldn't want to see an overwhelming of the health care delivery system, for example, hospital beds, intensive care unit beds, and even health care personnel. 

"That be would really a serious issue if we begin to see any overwhelming of that.”

The FDA just gave emergency authorization for a new test that for COVID-19 and the flu with one sample, and doctors with USF are working with a Miami-based company to possibly bring that test to our area.

RELATED: As flu season nears, new test could let doctors diagnose COVID-19 or flu at once

“There's going to be a tremendous burden upon healthcare providers to distinguish between influenza, and now coronavirus,” Sneed said. “We need to be prepared to distinguish between the two and then, if possible, mitigate both."

Doctors say it's best to plan to get the flu shot early as demand for the vaccine will be especially high this year. Most doctors and pharmacies start distributing the vaccine in September.

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