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Listen in: Dr. Monique Butler says flu and Omicron aren't causes for alarm, as long as Floridians get the vaccine

Photo: Monique Butler
Photo: Monique Butler

Flu season has begun here in Florida with notable outbreaks on several college campuses including the University of Florida and Florida State University.

WMFE spoke with Dr. Monique Butler, Chief Medical Officer of HCA Healthcare North, about what Floridians need to know about the dual threats of COVID and the flu this winter and how best to protect their families. 

Read the full interview below. 

Danielle: So Dr. Butler, how is the flu season going so far here in Florida? I know we've seen a few outbreaks already on college campuses including FSU?

Dr. Butler: Yeah, we have. You know, this flu season so far is turning out to be a typical flu season. In 2020, our numbers of flu were substantially lower, primarily because of a lot of the preventative measures that we've taken. But here, in 2021. Our flu season is looking like it's a typical flu season that we've seen in the past.

Danielle: What can other large universities do to protect against these outbreaks? I'm thinking about University of Central Florida where we are right here, any tips for them?

Dr. Butler: You know, the key is to make sure that we offer flu vaccination for our students, our students are in sort of closed areas, right in the dormitories and in lecture halls. And we want to ensure that they have the protection of immunity via vaccination from flu, but then also ensuring that when we're in enclosed spaces, that we're wearing our masks properly, and then ensuring that there's a certain amount of social distancing that we have within our dorms. And within our lecture halls.

Danielle: The research has shown so far that the flu strain that's out there this year caused more hospitalizations and deaths a few years ago, are you worried about this particular flu strain and the efficiency and the effectiveness of the vaccine that we have against it?

Dr. Butler: I'm not worried about this particular strain, because we know how to take care of patients who come down with flu and need hospitalization. I am concerned about the lack of flu vaccinations, however, and COVID-19 vaccinations. And so as long as our the public, you know, steps up to the plate and ensures that there's immunity for themselves and for others, then we should be fine and be able to get this get through the flu season as we do any other flu season.

Danielle: And are there any concerns for getting the flu vaccine around the same time as the COVID vaccine?

Dr. Butler: There aren't any concerns, many studies show many studies repeatedly have shown that there's not a contraindication with getting the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. Individuals are very safe after getting the two together. And you know, the we know now that the vaccines are safe for those individuals who are five years and older and so individuals who are able to get the vaccine based upon their age should do just that. And if there are any questions I would refer our community to their local primary care physician to answer any questions that you may have concerning the vaccines.

Danielle: Are the symptoms of the flu, different from COVID, I've heard that they can be quite similar, which makes it makes it hard for people to know if it's safe for them to travel or not this year.

Dr. Butler: The symptoms of the flu and COVID are very similar, fever and chills or cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. There is one cardinal symptom, however, in COVID-19 that we don't see in flu cases. And that's the loss of taste and smell. And so, you know, it's time to seek care, meaning going for emergency care when you have the following symptoms: trouble breathing, a persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or mental sort of instability, and an inability to wake or stay awake. There's intense fatigue, you want to make sure that you seek medical attention.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.