MARCANO: Think we have the flu and COVID on the ropes? Think again

Caption
Ray Marcano

Ray Marcano
Caption
Ray Marcano

We seem to be beating COVID, yes?

The Ohio Department of Health this month said signs indicate the delta variant has plateaued, mirroring statements from other health officials. Daily reported Covid cases in Montgomery, Green, Preble, Clark, and Warren counties continue to plummet. Warren, for example, had just 40 reported preliminary cases on Oct. 14, the lowest total in three months.

But we are far from out of the woods.

We are at the start of the flu season, which also began this month and lasts until May, with a typical peak season of December through March.

“We’re all concerned about what will happen when flu season hits especially if SARS-CoV-2 is still circulating,” said Dr. Susan L. Koletar. “Despite my optimism, I don’t think it’s going away anything soon,” said Koletar, the director of the division of infectious diseases at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Sars-CoV-2 is the scientific name for the coronavirus.

Koletar has a distinguished career in infectious disease research and has been recognized as one of America’s best doctors by US News and World for two decades running. She was on the front line of AIDS research and now studies the coronavirus.

Science has made tremendous progress during Koletar’s career. It took two years to identify the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS and just two weeks to sequence the coronavirus, Koletar said. Then, it took roughly two weeks from the time scientists identified the first confirmed case of coronavirus (Jan. 18, 2020) until the time the FDA approved the first COVID test on Feb. 4. That’s blinding speed.

But there’s still so much we don’t know, including this:

“If (people) get a co-infection, do they do that much worse? That’s a really important question.”

Remember, in September 2020, Americans, by in large, stayed home or wore masks, mitigating the flu virus. The 2020 flu season was very mild, with only 2,000 laboratory-confirmed cases across the US.

But now, people want to get on with their lives and that leads to a potentially scary scenario, especially given these numbers: two in five Americans say they’re not sure if they’ll get or won’t get a flu shot this season, and one in four say they won’t get a COVID shot.

Medical professionals believe this flu season will be far worse and are bracing for a possible twindemic of COVID and flu. That’s not appealing. We’d rather focus on the upcoming holidays, family gatherings, and celebrations and put behind vitriol over masks, shots, and mandates.

But Mother Nature has other ideas. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects Ohio will suffer more than 5,800 deaths — that’s more than 84 for each day the remaining this year — that are attributable to COVID alone.

“I really think there is such compelling evidence for the effectiveness of COVID vaccines that everyone should get a COVID vaccine,” Koletar said, noting she’s a big believer in freedom of choice. “People should get flu shots every year. Because, again, even if it does not completely prevent the flu, it really prevents people from getting sick and dying and being hospitalized.”

I’m fully vaccinated against both (and will get the Moderna booster now that the FDA has approved it). As Koletar noted, no, the shots don’t prevent getting either virus but mitigate the chances of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. That’s a scientific fact worth repeating over and over again.

I can’t imagine the pain of having both viruses in my system, and the thought of someone unvaccinated against getting both sends shivers through my vaccinated body.

“Most people have not lived through a pandemic like this in their lifetime,” Koletar said.

There is good news. Science continues to learn more about coronavirus each day and continues to develop new treatments. But Koeltar has a word of warning:

“We’re just not out of this yet.”

So do yourself a favor. If you’re one of the unvaccinated consider the shots. Don’t listen to me. Listen to Dr. Koletar and her more than 30 years of experience in science.

More importantly, listen to your head. Getting flu and COVID while vaccinated scares me; I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who’s unvaccinated, including the people I care about.

Ray Marcano is a long-time journalist whose column appears each Sunday on these pages. He can be reached at raymarcanoddn@gmail.com.

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