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Vaccines, Hospital Safety, and Holiday Warnings

  • Category: COVID-19
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Vaccines, Hospital Safety, and Holiday Warnings

Consistent with many areas across the United States, COVID-19 cases in Monterey County have been rising at an alarming rate. Dr. Mahenda Poudel, infectious disease specialist at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital (SVMH), shares important updates for the community.

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Dr. Mahenda Poudel, infectious disease specialist at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital (SVMH), click here.

Who Is Most Affected?

In Monterey County, the demographic population primarily impacted by COVID-19 is the Hispanic population.

“Most of the patients who have been hospitalized or have tested positive predominantly work in the agriculture population or they're related to one or more of these workers,” states Dr. Poudel.

The hospital is also seeing spikes in cases among younger individuals who are taking more risks, as well as the elderly population (age 65 or older). Pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, and obesity are also common among those infected.

Is It Safe to Go to the Hospital?

When the pandemic began, little was known about transmission, infection rates or treatment. Many people avoided seeking treatment for non-COVID conditions because they were fearful of contracting the virus. Now, more research has become available and testing is widely accessible. Every patient who comes to the hospital is tested for COVID-19 and triaged accordingly.

“Hospitals are really safe places to seek medical care, because you will be tested. You will be separated away from COVID patients if you test negative. And, even if you have COVID, it is really important that you come in early to seek medical attention. Some of the therapeutics we have work best if we can get to you early on. There's no reason to be scared to seek the appropriate medical care you need,” assures Dr. Poudel.

What Is the Difference Between COVID-19 and Influenza?

COVID-19 and influenza are respiratory illnesses caused by two different types of viruses. Both can be deadly. However, there are some key differences. For example, COVID seems to spread much more easily then seasonal influenza. Furthermore, patients with COVID-19 don’t always exhibit symptoms in the initial stages.

“COVID-19 patients have a longer pre-symptomatic period from the time of exposure. It's pretty alarming that you can have pre-symptomatic transmission, meaning you don't have symptoms but you could transmit to others,” cautions Dr. Poudel.

Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu do crossover, so it’s important for individuals to get tested to know which infection they may be suffering from. One unique symptom of COVID-19 is the loss of smell and taste — a fairly conclusive sign someone may have contracted the virus.

Why Is It Important to Get the Flu Shot?

A widely popular myth is that getting the flu vaccine gives you the flu. That is not true. Some individuals experience flu-like symptoms, but Dr. Poudel explains that is not due to the vaccine.

“You're not getting a real infection, but your body is being tricked as if it's being exposed to a real virus. That means your body's immune system comes into play and produces antibodies that remain in your blood for the rest of the season. In case you come in contact with the flu virus later on, it gets neutralized.”

While the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee you will absolutely not get the flu, it greatly reduces your chances and may even shorten the amount of time you are ill, as well as the severity. And, this year is especially important to get the flu shot — because if you do come down with the flu, it suppresses the immune system for weeks and could make you much more susceptible to COVID-19 down the road.

When Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available?

Recent announcements from biotech companies have elevated hope about the COVID-19 vaccine, with success rates passing 90%. However, the next six to eight weeks will be critical for determining the safety of these vaccines. Availability will be somewhat limited right away, so the most vulnerable populations and frontline healthcare workers will likely take priority over the rest of the general population when it comes to getting vaccinated.

“As the supply and access of the vaccine grows, it will be distributed to the general public. Realistically, I think we're looking at probably sometime early- to mid-2021,” shares Dr. Poudel.

In the meantime, he urges everyone to continue to practice social distancing, wear masks, avoid large gatherings, and keep up with all the habits that have kept many safe thus far. With the holiday season upon us, this is particularly critical.

“Experts are predicting that the next 10 to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest in the history of the pandemic. There will be increasing number of cases, hospitalizations, and death,” warns Dr. Poudel. “Unfortunately, as we get deeper into the pandemic that ‘pandemic fatigue’ is setting in. But I urge you to not let your guard down. Continue to mask, continue to practice social distancing and hand hygiene, and avoid large gatherings, especially during the holiday season. It is really important that everyone does their part in terms of protecting themselves, their family, and their loved ones. If you're healthy, if you can survive this pandemic, you can always celebrate next year because these holidays do come every year.”