Baystate Noble emergency medicine chief urges residents to get flu vaccine

WESTFIELD – With flu season approaching quickly in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, physicians are urging everyone to get a flu shot.

Sundeep “Sunny” M. Shukla, MD MBA FACEP, chief of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Noble Hospital, said while the flu season is typically at its worst from December – February, some communities across the country have cases of influenza already.

Sundeep “Sunny” M. Shukla, MD MBA FACEP, chief of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Noble Hospital.

“Some states are seeing it now, particularly in Iowa and in Puerto Rico,” said Shukla.

Here in western Massachusetts, cases of the flu are minimal, but Shukla said citizens should start combatting it now with the vaccine.

“When to get it can be a controversial question,” said Shukla, “but I would say the sooner the better. But really, at any point in the flu season you should get it.”

Shukla said the vaccines released by the Centers for Disease Control each year are aimed at preventing the strains experts believe will be most prominent. Shukla said there are different vaccine options, such as the inhaled vaccine and the shot. He said consulting your doctor before receiving the flu vaccine is important.

“Talk to your primary care physician before getting a flu shot,” he said. “They can help decide which vaccine is best for you.”

The type of vaccine that will work for an individual depends mainly on age along with any underlying medical conditions. He said young children and elderly adults, as well as pregnant women, are most at risk for contracting the flu. With drive-through flu clinics being offered this year due to COVID-19, Shukla said it is especially important to consult your doctor first if you are not receiving the vaccine from your doctor’s office.

“There has been a boom in telehealth, so if you don’t want to go into the office, you should consult your doctor by telehealth before getting a flu shot elsewhere,” he said.

The symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are very similar, including respiratory problems and fever, and Shukla said it is important to stay on top of your health.

“The incubation period for COVID-19 is 5-6 days, and for the flu it’s three days, so it can spread quickly,” Shukla said. “Anyone with symptoms should seek medical attention right away to help stop the spread. A lot of people have been avoiding going to the doctor during the pandemic, but we are here and ready for patients.”

Shukla said that many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and urged everyone to continue taking precautions, which will help prevent spreading COVID and the flu.

“People need to continue to social distance, wear masks and wash their hands,” he said.

Shukla said because so many people are following those guidelines, experts cannot predict the severity of the regular flu season this year.

“It could be terrible, or, because people are following COVID guidelines, it may not be that bad,” he said. “We just don’t know.”

Shukla said erring on the side of caution and getting a flu shot is the best defense at this time.

“In Massachusetts we are seeing a slight uptick in COVID-19,” he said. “It’s in our best interest to stop this in its tracks – we don’t want to lose any more loved ones and community members.”

Shukla said contracting both COVID and influenza at the same time could be avoided with the flu shot.

Shukla advised that children, the elderly and pregnant women “be more aggressive” in getting vaccinated and practicing COVID-19 precautions. “People are doing a good job – the culture is changing, so most people will probably do better. But with schools and businesses opening people will be more exposed to each other,” said Shukla.

“The CDC has ordered more flu shots this year to protect people,” according to Shukla, who said the flu shot would be offered to Baystate Noble Hospital’s admitted patients.


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