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Flu could bounce back this season

The lower number of flu cases the past two seasons have health officials concerned. Americans might have lost some of their natural immunity to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All the more reason to get your flu vaccination as early as possible, say local physicians, who are expecting a more normal and active flu season this year. 

“Last year, we did see less flu than normal, probably because of some of the COVID-19 safety protocols like social distancing and wearing masks,” said Dr. Stephen Mulkey of the Baylor Scott & White Burnet clinic. “But this year, as people are relaxing those (precautions), we’ll probably see a more normal year as far as the flu goes. Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself.”

Dr. Kristi Burkhart of Ascension Seton Bertram Health Center agreed.

“As COVID-19 prevention measures are relaxed, it’s just a matter of time before flu increases, bringing with it the serious complications like pneumonia and heart attacks,” she said. “While flu cases were at a record low this past year due to widespread use of COVID-19 prevention measures, the flu never completely went away.” 

During the previous flu season, the CDC recorded approximately 1,600 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza between Sept. 28, 2020, to May 22, 2021. Typically, the number is closer to 200,000.

Mulkey added that the flu virus changes a bit each year, so the vaccine is updated annually to better protect against new variations. All the more reason, he said, to get vaccinated.

While flu season tends to peak in December, both doctors recommended people get the vaccine in late October for the best prevention. 

“And because flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, preventing flu means fewer people will need to seek medical care and testing for flu as well as COVID-19, saving time and stress,” Burkhart said.

If you haven’t gotten your COVID-19 vaccination yet, you can get it and the flu shot at the same time. 

Other means of preventing the spread of the flu are similar to many of those practiced to slow the spread of COVID-19, including washing hands frequently, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, staying home when not feeling well, and, if possible, avoiding large groups of people. 

Flu vaccines are widely available at many medical offices and pharmacies. Visit the CDC’s Vaccine Finder to locate a vaccination site. For more information on the similarities and differences between the flu and COVID-19 symptoms, check out the CDC’s webpage.

Getting an annual flu shot does more than protect the person being inoculated.

“I get the flu vaccine every year to protect myself but also my patients and my family,” Mulkey said.

daniel@thepicayune.com