Doctor explains why this year's flu vaccine is more important than ever

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- As flu season quickly approaches, doctors at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center are bracing for what could be a challenging end to 2020.

Dr. Michael Zappa is the Chief of Emergency Services at CFVMC. He's been with the facility for nearly eight years. Zappa tells ABC11 that flu season, in addition to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, could spell disaster for hospitals across the country.

"If you think about it, remember, both of them are viruses that are very easily spread," Zappa said.

CFVMC saw nearly 4,000 influenza cases last year, between October 2019 and March 2020. Meanwhile, since March 2020, health officials have reported a total of more than 3,000 COVID-19 cases in Cumberland County.

"With flu, you still have the same at-risk groups for complications. The complications like pneumonia, and things that require hospitalization," Zappa said.

However, unlike COVID-19, people can combat the flu with a vaccine starting in September. Zappa said this will be the key to avoid overwhelming hospitals with both viruses.

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Infectious disease specialists say if you'll just roll up your sleeve and get a flu shot it will go a long way toward battling both influenza and COVID-19.



On top of that, the medical doctor adds that the current CDC guidelines: social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands frequently will help kill two birds with one stone.

"All of those will also help us in the containment of the flu," Zappa said.

The other big challenge is attempting to treat patients who walk-in with symptoms that could derive from the flu or COVID-19. It's an adjustment that Zappa is confident CFVMC medical staff will be able to make.

"That's going to force us to say, 'OK, how do we test for both? How do we test one or the other?'"

CFVMC officials recommend people start getting vaccines in September and October, in order to do their part to help those on the front line come fall and winter.

"It would be great, if I were seeing a patient who comes in saying, 'Hey, I've got fever, cough, congestion, and yes, I've already got my flu vaccine,'" Zappa said.

Flu season traditionally starts in October and ends around March.
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