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Experts warn of potential ‘twindemic’ this flu season

Last year was one of the mildest flu seasons on record with mask mandates and restrictions in place. But doctors fear this flu season will be different.

INDIANAPOLIS — With flu season around the corner, experts are worried about a potential double pandemic or “twindemic”—where influenza cases collide with rising COVID-19 numbers.  

“The possibility of a ‘twindemic’ is pretty real this year,” said Dr. Brian Dixon, director of Public Health Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute. 

Last year was one of the mildest flu seasons on record with mask mandates and restrictions keeping the numbers down.

“The situation is much different this year and it leads us to think that we will have at least a normal flu season if not a bad flu season and if we do, it’s going to be problematic for our health care system,” Dixon said.  

RELATED: VERIFY: Flu cases and deaths have dropped dramatically since 2019-20 season

So far this summer, physicians have already reported seeing an unusual amount of RSV cases and other viruses among children. Experts say it’s a possible indicator for what’s to come this fall and winter.  

RELATED: 'It just kind of exploded': Doctors see unusual spike in RSV cases

But for right now, flu cases remain low in Indiana. Currently, the state is averaging about 750 flu tests a day. Of those, about 14 usually come back positive. That’s about a two percent positivity rate. 

Now compare that to COVID-19 which has about an 11 percent positivity rate.

“With our hospital system already overburdened from COVID-19, there is a real concern about flu coming in this fall, as it does every year, and putting additional people and strain on the healthcare system,” Dixon said.  

The other challenge will be knowing the difference between the flu and COVID-19 since the symptoms are so similar.   

“We have rapid tests for both. We have tests that take a couple of days to process for both. So, we will start to see both kinds of tests be more common during the flu season this year in order to rule out one or the other,” Dixon said.  

RELATED: No, you don't have to wait 14 days between a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine

Experts say it is possible to contract both viruses at the same time, but it’s highly unlikely with very few cases being reported.  

To protect yourself, doctors say it’s simple—wear a mask and get both vaccines.   

Doctors say the best time to get the flu shot is in September and October for ideal protection.  

The CDC now recommends "you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines at the same visit. You no longer need to wait 14 days between vaccinations." 

Community Health plans to host flu vaccination clinics this fall that will offer COVID vaccines at the same time. Other hospital networks are considering the same.