Will Wearing A Face Mask For Covid-19 Also Protect You From The Flu?

Here's how the coronavirus pandemic measures we're taking stack up against influenza.

Now that we are many months into the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of the public is infinitely more aware of the precautions necessary to help curb the spread of the infectious disease — mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing.

And as we near flu seasonwhich runs from about October to early May every year ― questions around expected flu rates during the pandemic are front of mind for many medical professionals. Hope around reduced flu rates are met with concerns of Covid-19 and influenza co-infection.

Since the pandemic began, the world’s thought process around the spread of infectious diseases has changed, according to Ali Raja, executive vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Specifically, the things that we have done, from wearing masks to hand-washing to physically distancing ourselves to even the cleaning,” Raja said.

As with almost everything with the coronavirus pandemic, there is a level of uncertainty around what to expect from this completely unexpected virus. But there is reason to believe that mask-wearing, along with other precautions, may help lower flu rates this year.

Below, experts shared their thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 mitigation measures on flu rates this fall and winter.

ArtistGNDphotography via Getty Images

Mask-wearing, and other public health safety methods, are expected to reduce flu rates overall but may vary by region.

Raja said he is hopeful flu rates will drop as a result of the public health safety measures that we’ve taken to prevent Covid-19. H

However, speaking about the situation in the US, Raja noted that there is a unique set of challenges when it comes to virus mitigation.

“We still have to be ready for a typical flu season,” he said. “A lot of the countries that are reporting their flu data going way down actually have much more rigorous and much more universal precautions in place than we do in the US. While I’m really hopeful that our flu rates will drop the same way we’ve seen other countries in the Southern Hemisphere drop, I’m worried that, at least in certain parts of the country, we may not see much of a drop at all.”

Flu rates will only decrease if everything is done properly, especially within schools.

James Cherry, distinguished research professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, stated that children are the reservoir when it comes to influenza. The virus most often spreads from children to adults.

He voiced concern around in-person learning and the risks that school could bring if school systems ― and the students, teachers and staff within the school systems ― do not adhere to all government guidelines.

“With school reopenings, if they don’t do things right, children could bring the flu home to parents and high-risk people,” he said.

Cherry added that in order for schools to control influenza and Covid-19, students and teachers need to be wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands frequently.

RichVintage via Getty Images

Get your flu jab to help reduce rates of influenza.

To further reduce the spread and risk of the flu, Raja encourages the public to get the flu jab. There are many uncertainties associated with the coronavirus and its emergence during flu season, including the risk of co-infection.

“We don’t know what co-infection with Covid and the flu is going to look like. I’m worried patients may end up more sick than either disease alone,” Raja said.

Protecting yourself, and those around you, from the flu will also only help protect other members of society, which is crucial as Covid-19 continues to increasingly impact Black communities.

“We already know Covid has really hit disproportionately our communities of colour and places that do not have very robust healthcare systems in place,” Raja said. “And if we don’t ramp up flu vaccinations and other preventative measures, then those communities are going to get hit even harder.”