As the COVID-19 pandemic moves into the colder weather, health officials are waiting to see what that means for the upcoming influenza season.
Will there be a twindemic? Or will all of the mask wearing and social distancing pay off by giving us a lighter flu season?
Either way, it’s always best to be prepared. There isn’t an available COVID-19 vaccine yet, but you can get one that will help prevent flu.
Dr. Diane Gross, Monongalia County Health Department’s regional epidemiologist, points out that there is more than one reason that getting a flu vaccine is especially important now that COVID is a factor.
One, she notes, “Flu can kill you.” While it’s true that COVID-19 has proven to be deadlier than seasonal flu, a case of influenza can be deadly, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.
You also don’t want to feel fatigue, body aches and other symptoms and wonder if you have COVID or the flu.
Being co-infected with both COVID and the flu also would be a miserable and dangerous combination.
If you need to see a doctor or to be hospitalized, that can be problematic for two reasons. You’re leaving the protective bubble of your home. Plus, if this turns out to be a bad flu season, hospitals would be even more at risk of being overwhelmed. “It’s the same resources, including beds and respirators,” Gross noted.
During the 2019-20 influenza season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that influenza was associated with 38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths.
COVID-19 has proven to be deadlier, with 211,000-plus deaths in the U.S. in less than nine months.
Still, influenza needs to be taken seriously.
Getting a flu vaccine at Monongalia County Health Department’s Clinical Services is a safe procedure. After making an appointment by calling 304-598-5119, patients will come to the front entrance at the top of the health department and call the number on the door. When it’s time for the vaccine, the masked patient will be greeted at the door, undergo a temperature check and be escorted to a room.
It’s quick, easy and pretty painless.
Insurance can be billed for the vaccine. Otherwise, it costs $25. MCHD Clinical Services also has high-dose vaccines that are recommended for anyone 65 and older.
October is considered the sweet spot — the ideal time frame — by MCHD’s public health nurses for people to be inoculated against the flu.
Any earlier, and you risk your protection waning before flu season is over. In West Virginia, flu can last until April and sometimes even May. It takes about two weeks for a flu shot to become fully effective, so you don’t want to wait too long.
That said, at MCHD Clinical Services, we also like to say it’s never too late to get your flu shot, even if it’s December or January. But you’re risking getting the flu during that time period.
The CDC notes that flu activity is low right now. But that could change.
It is recommended that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. Children, older people and those with conditions that compromise their immune system are especially vulnerable to flu and should be inoculated. Pregnant women should be vaccinated to protect themselves as well as their unborn babies, who will not be able to receive protection until they are 6 months old.
And some of the habits developed or honed during the COVID pandemic are helpful during flu season. Wash your hands. If you get sick, stay home from work. If you really need to seek medical attention, do so, either to get antivirals or if you develop a secondary infection that could require antibiotics. But otherwise, the cure for flu without complications is generally rest, fluids and time. Antibiotics do not help you recover from a flu virus.
Consider scheduling your flu vaccine now. You can get one at your doctor’s office or at MCHD Clinical Services. Call 304-598-5119 to make an appointment.
Contact Mary Wade Burnside at MaryWade.Burnside@wv.gov.