Drive-Thru Flu Clinic at Fort Harrison VA Medical Center

MISSOULA - Flu season is arriving on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A Missoula doctor and the city-county health department are concerned as the winter months come. 

"In America we haven't gone through a flu (influenza) season at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic yet, so this season is going to be unprecedented.

Missoula family and obstetrics and gynaecology doctor with Community Physician Group Courtney Hathaway is concerned for the folks in the community. 

"It's definitely possible to get both the flu and coronavirus in the same season, if not even at the same time, which puts a person at a really, really high risk," Dr. Hathaway said. 

She's urging Montanans to get their flu shot now. She hears from patients, "I'm healthy, I don't need the flu shot." And Hathaway tells her patients, "sometimes it's not about you." It's about protecting the vulnerable. 

"There's babies under the age of one. Babies can't get the flu vaccine so they're totally unprotected from the influenza and they're at highest risk," Hathaway said. "Getting your flu shot is going to be protecting those kids and babies. It also help protect some of our immunocompromised patients, people who are on chemotherapy."

Hathaway is also concerned about her fellow healthcare professionals. 

"We worry about about hospitals getting overwhelmed with flu virus patients, other respiratory viruses that happen this time of year," she said. "If you, as a community member, can help us by getting your flu vaccine, making sure you don't get into the hospital with the flu, that helps us take care of the other sick patients that are there."

The Missoula City-County Health Department Director Ellen Leahy said this winter they're anticipating hospitalizations from the flu, COVID-19 and people with other health problems. Her concern is hospitals won't have enough space. 

Leahy urges people to get their flu vaccine now, in case hospitals start to fill up.

She thinks there will be confusion this winter because the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms. And there are also people who are asymptomatic. 

Hathaway said some patients who are afraid of COVID-19 are avoiding the hospital, even when they have health concerns, like symptoms associated with heart attacks. She said hospitals and health clinics require face masks and are working hard to keep things clean. She encourages people to visit they doctor if they feel uneasy or sick. 

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