As flu season begins again 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 and Prevention (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.
“The flu vaccine is even more important this year with the ongoing presence of COVID-19 making it harder to distinguish between the two illnesses,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hymes, chief medical officer for Fresenius Kidney Care. “We know that both the COVID and flu vaccines work very well at preventing symptomatic illness as well as severe complications. This protection is especially critical for people with underlying health conditions.”
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 flu-related deaths. New variants 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. Coinfection with other respiratory pathogens (bacterial, viral, and fungal) in COVID-19 patients is common,” said Dr. Hymes.
There are now three authorized COVID-19 vaccines widely available in the United States. Those are:
Additionally, the (CDC) recommends vaccine booster shots for certain individuals, including those with chronic kidney disease. Booster shot eligibility for the broader public is evolving rapidly, so visit the CDC website for the most current information.
Flu shots are also currently widely available and still a vital part of staying healthy through fall and winter months. In one 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.
It is still advised to continue practicing handwashing for 40-60 seconds, cleaning surfaces frequently, and social distancing to combat against the flu. Wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is also an effective measure, but vaccines are the best way to prevent a severe infection.
In an effort to combat the flu, all Fresenius Kidney Care centers across North America are offering both the flu shot and COVID vaccine booster as prescribed by a patient’s physician and administered during their center visit. As always, patients are encouraged to speak with their healthcare professionals before getting the flu shot.