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As flu season begins amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leading health experts are raising concerns around addressing two serious illnesses at the same time. This season will prove an even greater challenge for dialysis patients, who are considered a high-risk population for both.
According to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people with chronic kidney disease (CKD), living with a kidney transplant, or undergoing dialysis treatment, all face an increased risk of severe illness from flu. These same concerns apply to COVID-19, as CKD results in a decreased immune response which can make this population more at-risk from complications. With flu vaccines already widely available, getting vaccinated is one simple action to help reduce this major risk factor.
“This flu season, we have worked harder than ever to make sure our patients are getting vaccinated,” said Dr Jeffrey Hymes, Chief Medical Officer for Fresenius Kidney Care. “With the flu and COVID-19, we have emphasized the importance of protecting yourself and those around you. Since there are still unknowns surrounding how to treat coronavirus, we are emphasizing the importance of preventing the flu first to keep everyone safe.”
In a moderate year, such as 2018-2019, the CDC reported more the 35.5 million influenza cases, with 490,000 hospitalizations and over 34,000 deaths related to the flu. A potential second wave of COVID-19 could create a deadly combination, especially for those already living with chronic disease. As these two viruses circulate at the same time, with many overlapping symptoms, it could also become increasingly difficult to determine how to treat patients presenting with fever, cough, or other flu-like symptoms.
“Importantly, the presence of influenza does not reduce the probability of COVID-19 infection so all symptomatic patients will continue to need COVID-19 testing. The incidence of coinfection with other respiratory pathogens (bacterial, viral, and fungal) has been reported in as many as 94 percent of COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Hymes.
In a recent study focusing on the effectiveness of influenza vaccination among older adults relating to kidney function during the 2014-2015 season1, researchers found that influenza vaccination led to lower overall hospitalization rates. A study conducted by Fresenius Medical Care in 2016, which examined kidney patients who were vaccinated for the influenza, found that patients who skipped the vaccine were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized by the third year of the study.
COVID-19 and influenza are similar respiratory illnesses which can be spread through the air but are caused by different viruses. Similar to COVID-19, it is advised to continue practicing handwashing for 40 seconds, cleaning surfaces frequently, and social distancing to combat against the flu. Wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is also an effective measure.
In an effort to combat the flu, all Fresenius Kidney Care clinics across North America are offering the flu shot to their patients when they visit their clinics for their dialysis treatment. As always, patients are encouraged to speak with their healthcare professionals before getting the flu shot.