EAU CLAIRE — Don’t forget your flu shot, especially this year: That’s what county health officials are urging, as the COVID-19 continues to spur respiratory illness in Eau Claire County.

The influenza vaccine won’t protect against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — but it will “make it more likely that if you get ill, we know it’s possibly not influenza and could be COVID-19,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, at a Monday news briefing.

But don’t rush out for a flu vaccine just yet. Flu season is generally considered to be October through May, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it doesn’t anticipate recommending getting a flu vaccine as early as August: “September and October are good times to get vaccinated,” the CDC said Friday.

“This season is being predicted as being a strong influenza season on top of COVID-19,” Giese said. “My encouragement is to start planning now to get your influenza vaccine.”

COVID-19 could make the upcoming 2020-2021 flu season a doozy, medical organizations predict. While they’re caused by different viruses, COVID-19 and the flu share many symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, congestion, muscle aches and headache.

Because COVID-19 and the flu share symptoms, diagnosing a patient with one or the other can be difficult. You can also get both viruses at the same time, according to Mayo Clinic’s website.

But there’s a laundry list of differences between the two, Mayo Clinic noted: COVID-19 symptoms generally take longer to appear (two to 14 days after exposure, compared to an average of one to four days for the flu). Severe illness may be more frequent with COVID-19, and the mortality rate for the novel coronavirus appears to be higher as well. While there are FDA-approved antiviral drugs to treat the flu, there are no such antivirals yet approved to treat COVID-19.

“Research also shows that getting the flu vaccine does not make you more likely to get COVID-19 or other respiratory infections,” Mayo Clinic said.

The 2019-2020 influenza vaccine was about 45% effective, according to a February report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the highest rate of effectiveness since the 2015-2016 flu season.

In COVID-19 news, Eau Claire County recorded 23 new cases over the weekend as of Monday, bringing the county’s total to 668. (Ten of those new cases were reported Monday.) The weekend case numbers are roughly the same as last weekend, when 27 new cases were recorded between Friday and Monday.

Of the county’s 600-plus cases, four people have died and 33 have ever been hospitalized — one new hospitalization recorded since Wednesday. Recovered are 570 of the 668 cases, according to county data.

A testing event at the Eau Claire County Jail last week resulted in 79 of 80 total tests coming back negative; the county is still waiting for the final test result, Giese said. Seven people related to the county jail have ever tested positive for the virus; all seven have recovered, Giese said.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.