Health professionals warn about return of flu season amid COVID-19

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Although the fight against COVID-19 continues, flu season is quickly approaching and health experts are warning that it could make a big comeback.

Last year, many COVID-19 precautions – including staying home, washing your hands and social distancing – not only slowed the spread of COVID-19 but also minimized the flu.

"Everyone was wearing a mask, people were working from home and kids were not in school, so no one was out in the community to spread flu and it essentially disappeared," UNM School of Medicine’s Walter Dehority, M.D., said.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there were 3 adult flu deaths and no pediatric deaths during the 2020-21 season. In comparison, there were 62 adult deaths and 5 pediatric deaths during the 2019-20 season.

While health officials said the flu was virtually non-existant last season, they are worried about a rise in numbers this season which could cause a strain on the hospital system.

"Every year in the winter, prior to COVID-19, our hospital was almost bursting at the seams where we would have children, for example, having to lay down in the ER department waiting for a room," Dehority said, "so if you take that and you add on the COVID-19 cases that we’re seeing, that’s a situation we’re trying to prevent."

According to Dehority, flu and COVID-19 symptoms are virtually the same which makes it hard for someone to know what they have unless they are tested. Furthermore, doctors are worried that unvaccinated people could get sick with both.

"We don’t really know what would happen if that occurred, which I think should scare a lot of people," Dehority said. "It certainly wouldn’t be good, and would imagine it’d probably take an extra toll on the body."

There are free flu shot clinics being put on by UNMH in Albuquerque. To find out when and where they are taking place, visit UNMH’s Free Flu Shots webpage or click the "4Links" tab above.