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Medical experts urging Iowans to get flu shot as COVID-19 hospitalizations tick up

Flu season typically starts in October and ends in May according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DES MOINES, Iowa — As of September, COVID-19 hospitalization rates are reaching the highest levels Iowa has seen since the first COVID-19 vaccines were made available to the public.

"The hospitals are full, our emergency departments are full, our urgent cares and primary care offices are all very busy," said Dr. Patricia Newland, Vice President Medical Director for the UnityPoint Clinic. "And it's not just COVID, it's all of the regular things we typically see."

That's why she and others in the medical field are urging Iowans to do their part and not only get the COVID-19 vaccine, but also the influenza vaccine as another flu season approaches amid the pandemic.

"Receiving the influenza vaccine will minimize that disease and that disease alone is very similar to COVID-19," said Dr. Jennifer Olson, Quality Physician Chair and Interim President of MercyOne Clinics.

Many flu and COVID-19 symptoms overlap, such as cough, fever, chills, body aches, vomiting, stuffy or runny nose, and fatigue. If someone develops any of those symptoms during flu season, it may be impossible to tell if that person has COVID-19 or the flu.

"For the most part, these illnesses are very tricky to tell apart and that's why we are really urging people to get vaccinated for both of them this year especially," said Dr. Newland.

Unlike the COVID-19 shots available, the flu shot is approved for everyone six months of age and older. Flu season typically starts in October and ends in May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

For mild symptoms, hospitals and clinics can test to find determine if the infected person has flu or COVID-19. For severe symptoms, Newland still recommends seeking medical attention as soon as possible.

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