This Is the CDC Director's "Biggest Fear" With COVID

Coronavirus and flu could make a lethal team this winter.

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Coronavirus is casting a long shadow as we brace for a second wave of the virus that's predicted to hit just in time for flu season. In a recorded interview for JAMA Network, CDC director Robert R. Redfield, MD shared his own "biggest fear," about COVID and flu: that together, they could completely overwhelm our nation's hospitals this winter.

The CDC estimates that last year's flu season resulted in tens of millions of flu cases and tens of thousands of deaths. Numbers like these could greatly complicate the fight against COVID in the months ahead. "[The] biggest fear I have of course with COVID and flu at the same time is that our hospital capacity could get strained," said Redfield.

He pointed to the devastation in New York City in March and April as an example of just how bad things could become. "We had really high mortality rates if you go back and look at New York. It's not that the practice of medicine was not as good in New York—it was probably better than most parts of the country—but when the health system gets overwhelmed, we find that with COVID, this is where the mortalities seem to be the greatest," he explained.

That's why Redfield stressed the importance of all Americans getting a flu shot to help mitigate this dual threat. "My goal is to ask the American public to do their part," said Redfield, later adding, "This is the time. Don't leave this enormous advancement in medicine on the shelf."

But Redfield isn't the only one imploring the public to do their part. Benjamin Singer, MD, a Northwestern Medicine pulmonologist and critical care specialist who treats COVID-19 patients, echoed Redfield's sentiments and shared his best tips for avoiding disaster this winter. On top of urging everyone to get the flu vaccine, he noted that COVID mitigation strategies like social distancing and hand hygiene should help combat both COVID and flu—all the more reason to step up our vigilance.

Singer also stressed that the threat is very real, and has already affected our ability to fight coronavirus. "Co-infection with another respiratory pathogen, including the flu, occurred in more than 20 percent of COVID-19-positive patients who presented with a respiratory viral syndrome early in the pandemic," Singer warned. The number of co-infections is likely to soar as people spend more time indoors during colder months.

So, even if you don't regularly get flu shots, this is a good year to start. Call your doctor or local pharmacy to find out how you can get yours—not only for yourself, but for the hospitals that don't need any extra patients right now. And for more on this double threat, Here's How COVID's Death Toll Compares to the Flu.

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