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Expert: Early data shows flu season could be mild, but vaccine is more important than ever

Early indicators from South America and Australia show COVID-19 precautions may be slowing the spread of influenza as well.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, Knox County health leaders have pointed to the five core actions: washing your hands, wearing a mask, staying six feet apart, cleaning surfaces and staying home while sick.

In parts of the Southern Hemisphere, it appears those public health measures are slowing the spread of influenza, too.

"Sometimes we can look at how activity is for the flu in areas of the world that have already been in flu season or gotten through the flu season to predict how things might be in the United States," said Dr. David Aronoff, Director of Infectious Disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Last year in Australia, their flu season was pretty bad and then we had a subsequent flu season that was pretty bad."

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But this time around, Dr. Aronoff said the flu season hasn't been as bad.

"We think, although we don't know for sure, that may be the case because of all the extra measures we're taking as a global community to prevent COVID-19," he said. 

Still, he said the flu vaccine is more important than ever. Health leaders are trying to minimize the impacts of influenza during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Having both flu and COVID-19 circulating in our population could mean much more suffering and death for members of our community," Dr. Aronoff said. "Getting a flu shot helps reduce the risk that someone who gets the flu will get sick or die from influenza."

Dr. Aronoff said he recommends everyone gets a flu shot in the next month or so. At some East Tennessee pharmacies and doctor's offices, they are already available. 

"The simple answer is I just want everybody to get their flu shot, we have to not worry too much about timing it exactly just right" he said. "Flu shots don't tend to last forever... but I would say if you have the chance to get your flu shot, go ahead and get it."