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Family First with FOX43: Doctors await answers on how flu season will interact with COVID-19 pandemic

Many doctors simply don't know yet some of the most asked questions when it comes to flu season's impact on the coronavirus and vice versa.

As flu season approaches, doctors admit there are still far more questions than answers when it comes to how influenza will interact and adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Doctors, like pediatrician Patrick Gavigan at the Penn State Milton Hershey Medical Center, admit it's confusing. Just as health experts are learning something new seemingly every day about the novel coronavirus, the flu virus strains change every year, and is creating an unpredictable fall ahead.

"There is optimism that flu season is going to be less severe because people are already doing these social distancing, mask wearing, disease mitigation efforts," Dr. Gavigan said. "We know kids are going to get sick. There's no way to distinguish that based on symptoms, and it's going to be a major obstacle and difficulty for providers."

Not being able to differentiate between the flu and COVID-19 will be a major issue, Gavigan admits, because often times, symptoms are very similar. He says doctors will be "learning on the fly" to predict what is going to happen.

"I think probably the biggest clue or giveaway would be if you’ve been in close contact with someone with one of those (viruses)," Dr. Gavigan said. "That’s gonna be the easiest way for us to, without having a test, decide if this is COVID-19 or someone with influenza."

Doctors also aren't entirely sure if you can get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Gavigan says it's possible considering health experts see influenza co-infections with other respiratory viruses and common cold diseases, but when it comes to COVID-19 and the flu which will be in the United States, the answer is unknown.

Doctor Gavigan also does not believe getting a flu vaccine will help stop people from getting COVID-19, though that's not a reason you should avoid getting the annual flu shot, he says. Despite a flu vaccine not being 100% effective at preventing the flu, Gavigan says it will make it a much more mild illness if you do get it.

"There's a huge benefit in reducing hospitalizations in influenza for people who get the flu vaccine," Dr. Gavigan said. "There’s a big concern if there’s another spike {of COVID-19) that we’re going to run into issues with the hospital system overwhelmed."

Doctors want to see people get their flu vaccine before the end of October this year, and continue to wear masks and socially distance to contain the spread of COVID-19.