As we prepare for influenza season and the COVID pandemic to intersect, St. Luke’s is committed to ensuring safe care in a safe environment by following the guidelines set forth by the state and the CDC. This means a change in how patients will access influenza vaccinations so we're able to follow physical distancing recommendations.
This year, St. Luke's will be offering flu shots by appointment only; we are not able to accommodate walk-ins. Evening and weekend appointments are available.
Click each question below for its answer:
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. It can cause mild to severe illness, sometimes leading to death. Flu almost always causes symptoms in those who are infected.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, which has triggered a global pandemic. It can cause mild to severe illness, sometimes leading to death.
A key difference is that many people with COVID-19 can have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. This makes it difficult to distinguish between infected and non-infected individuals, and has made it difficult to contain the pandemic. People with no symptoms can still transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which rarely happens with influenza.
These illnesses are so similar, it can be impossible to tell them apart without a test. Both flu and COVID-19 can cause mild to severe illness and could possibly lead to death. Both often come on suddenly and can present with some or all of the following symptoms:
Both are thought to spread mainly by droplets made when someone who is contagious talks, coughs or sneezes. These droplets can be inhaled by those nearby or can land on nearby surfaces. A person may touch that surface, then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. Airborne transmission may occur with COVID-19, especially within short distances and after certain activities, like coughing or singing.
Illness increases around flu season because several flu strains circulate in our communities. With the addition of COVID-19 this year, hospitals and clinics will likely see higher than normal numbers of people with illness and symptoms. It may be uncommon, but patients can be infected with both viruses at the same time. In these cases, we might expect disease to be more severe.
Additionally, the winter season causes people to remain indoors more, increasing the probability that flu and COVID-19 will spread.
To reduce the risk of getting sick, be sure to get a flu vaccine early while also maintaining normal vaccination schedules for all vaccines, continue to practice good hand hygiene, physically distance from others, and wear a face covering.
Absolutely. Clinics and hospitals are taking extra precautions to ensure safe, clean environments for patients to visit. It’s important for patients to maintain regular visits, physicals, therapy, and vaccination schedules as determined with their providers. Video visits are also available and often just as effective as in-person visits.
For the flu, yes. Everyone should consider getting a flu vaccine as soon as they become available. For COVID-19, there is currently no vaccination available.
Regardless of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, it’s important to maintain vaccination schedules for all vaccines, especially for children. Many children have gotten behind on their important childhood vaccinations that protect them from diseases like polio, measles, and bacteria that cause childhood meningitis. Maintaining vaccination schedules helps prevent unnecessary illnesses and reduces the risk of illness and spread throughout the community.
If you develop symptoms of flu or respiratory illness and are concerned you may have risk factors for COVID-19, contact your health care provider or use an online symptom checker through your local hospital’s website. Clinic staff can complete a risk assessment over the phone and provide guidance on next steps, which may include arranging a visit with a provider or testing if needed. Please visit an emergency department if you have severe symptoms.
A yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step to protect against flu. Everyone six months or older should get an annual flu vaccine. There currently is no vaccination for COVID-19.
To prevent the spread of flu or COVID-19, use the “three W” infection-prevention practices:
Yes, face coverings have been shown to significantly reduce rates of COVID-19 transmission. Since symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it will likely help with flu as well. Recent studies indicate a significant portion of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms, and the virus can be transmitted before symptoms begin.
Follow local ordinances and CDC guidelines, and err on the side of caution. Wear a face covering in public, particularly in indoor and enclosed spaces. Wear one in places where physical distancing is difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Yes. A yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against flu. Everyone six months or older should get an annual flu vaccine. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of getting sick by flu and has been shown to reduce hospitalization from flu. Getting the flu vaccine early (typically in the fall) helps reduce the illness burden in the community.
Flu antivirals are available by prescription. Antiviral drugs are somewhat effective in treating flu illness, can make illness milder, and can shorten the time you’re sick. They can also prevent serious flu complications. Antiviral drugs should be used early on to treat people who are very sick with flu and people who get flu symptoms who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as the elderly or those with medical conditions.
There are a number of treatments for hospitalized patients with COVID-19. They can shorten the course of disease and may reduce its severity. There is no drug or therapy that would be considered curative or that would render the disease harmless; research trials are underway, and this could change in the future. In the outpatient setting, symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol.
There are multiple strains of flu in any given flu season. Since a vaccine is only able to target a limited number of strains each year, you may be protected from one strain but not another.
The immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood. Patients with COVID-19 are unlikely to be reinfected shortly after they recover, but it’s not yet known if they become immune once they have contracted the virus.
We do not yet know enough about immunity to COVID-19 to predict how the virus will impact our communities. Early results of antibody testing show that many people remain uninfected and are, therefore, susceptible to acquiring infection. In addition, recent studies have suggested that antibodies, once produced, may not last beyond a few months. What this means regarding long-term immunity is not clear. Until an effective vaccine is developed and deployed, and there is significant immunity, our community will likely continue to see spread of the virus.
St. Luke's is prepared to support our patients and community as we enter the fall flu season with COVID-19 still spreading across Idaho. Our commitment to safe care includes coronavirus testing, visitor screening, enhanced safety practices and more.