- Actress and musician Rita Wilson is encouraging everyone to get the flu shot, especially the 200 million who are most vulnerable to serious complications.
- Wilson was hospitalized with COVID-19 in March, and experienced nausea, chills, and a loss of taste and smell. “I never, ever want to get it again,” she told Insider.
- As a breast cancer survivor, Wilson is aware that health crises, including the flu and COVID — which can happen at the same time — can affect anyone.
- Getting the flu shot can protect you, support an overburdened healthcare system, and help prevent those around you from getting infected.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Actress and musician Rita Wilson thought she was jet-lagged and tired from performing at the Sydney Opera House in March 2020.
That explanation seemed a lot more likely than the coronavirus, since she and her husband, the actor Tom Hanks, had been especially careful to avoid it — sanitizing surfaces, maintaining social distance, and declining hugs and handshakes long before many people had embraced such prevention measures.
“I was completely shocked” to learn her symptoms were due to COVID-19, Wilson said in a video interview with Insider, in which she discussed how her experience with health crises drove her to get involved in a flu-shot campaign called “the Race to 200 Million,” co-led by the American Nurses Association.
The program is encouraging everyone to get the flu shot, especially the 200 million who are most vulnerable, like those over 50 and those with underlying conditions.
As a 63-year-old, Wilson is one of them.
“I’m not taking any chances of getting the flu or getting COVID” again, she said. “I’m [getting the flu shot], and I hope everyone else does too. It’s so easy.”
Wilson experienced shivering, nausea, and a loss of taste and smell
Wilson’s bout with the coronavirus lasted about two weeks total, with the worst of the symptoms hitting at about day seven. She and Hanks were hospitalized, largely to help contain the virus in Australia.
She experienced shivering, shaking, a fever, loss of appetite, vertigo, and nausea.
She was so nauseous, in fact, “she had to crawl on the floor from the bed to the facilities,” Hanks told the National Defense Radio Show April 19.
Wilson also lost her sense of taste and smell before those symptoms were connected with the virus.
“I kept on asking the doctor, ‘Have you had anybody who has complained about losing sense of smell or taste?'” Wilson told Insider. “And he said, ‘No, we haven’t heard that’ … but that’s how rapidly it was changing.”
While it did take her a couple weeks to regain the strength to sing her best, Wilson, whose latest album “Halfway to Home,” is out now, said she was lucky the virus didn’t seem to damage her lungs, perhaps in part because she was diligent about keeping hydrated.
“I never, ever want to get it again,” Wilson told Insider. “Fortunately we were lucky, and we’re here to talk about it and hopefully get people to be serious about their health.”
‘You don’t think you’re ever going to be the person who gets it and then you are’
Wilson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, and had a double mastectomy. The experience taught her health crises can happen to anyone.
“You don’t think you’re ever going to be the person who gets it and then you are, and so that experience taught me that you’re not unscathed, that you can get it, get COVID-19, and get the flu,” she told Insider.
But getting the flu shot can protect you from the latter and, in turn, raise your defenses against the coronavirus since the flu weakens your immune system. And, it’s possible to get both COVID and the flu at the same time, Ernest Grant, the president of the American Nurses Association, told Insider.
“They both should be taken very, very seriously because they both are very serious illnesses and could cost you your life,” he said as a part of the Race to 200 Million, which is also supported by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur.
People who are over 50, have underlying conditions like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes, are especially at risk for both illnesses. The flu vaccine won’t give you the flu or raise your risk of COVID; just make sure to wear a mask to your appointment, which should ideally be scheduled in September or October,
Getting a flu shot also spares the overburdened healthcare system patients, and protects those around you, said Wilson, who continues to practice strict COVID-prevention measures like physical distancing and mask wearing even though she has antibodies against the illness.
“If you wear a mask to either protect yourself but most importantly to protect someone else,” she said, “the same thing applies to the flu shot: If you do it, you’re protecting yourself but you’re also protecting somebody else by them not getting it.”