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Officials: Getting flu shot more important than ever during coronavirus pandemic

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties (PHDM) RN Jenny Farnes, left, administers a flu shot to PHDM Prevention Specialist Michelle Chaillier Tuesday. According to PHDM, it is extremely important that people get vaccinated for the flu over the next few months.

ESCANABA — All eyes have been on the COVID-19 pandemic this year, but another major threat to public health will be arriving in the area soon — the 2020-21 flu season. According to representatives of Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties (PHDM) and OSF HealthCare St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group, it is extremely important that people get vaccinated for the flu over the next few months.

PHDM Immunization/Communicable Disease Coordinator Jennie Miller said it was not possible to accurately predict the course of the upcoming flu season.

“While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one season to another,” she said.

To collect data on flu activity, PHDM relies on reports of influenza-like illness from OSF St. Francis and local schools. By Tuesday, Sept. 15, they had not received any reports indicating flu activity in the area.

Miller said the 2020-21 flu season could be an unusual one when it does begin locally.

“The prospect of our annual flu outbreak compounding the COVID-19 pandemic during this fall and winter’s ‘respiratory virus’ season is worrisome. Hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices are likely to be busy caring for COVID-19 patients and other health needs,” she said.

Confusion between the flu and COVID-19 could cause problems this year and early in 2021.

“With so many shared symptoms, it will be complicated to distinguish between the two and will require testing,” Miller said.

She went on to note anyone showing these symptoms will likely have to self-isolate for at least 10 days. People they have been in close contact with may need to be quarantined, as well.

OSF St. Francis Infection Preventionist Nicole Pirlot provided additional information on the symptoms both illnesses have in common.

“The CDC has put together a list of similar symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza. They are: fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue (being tired), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache, or some people may have vomiting and diarrhea,” she said.

Along with these threats, the actual combination of coronavirus and the flu has the potential to be dangerous.

“We also don’t know what the combination of COVID-19 and influenza could mean for people who get infected at the same time or close together, but there is concern that the combination could lead to serious illness,” Miller said.

With these concerns in mind, Miller urged people in the area to get vaccinated for the flu in September or October.

“During the 2018-2019 flu season, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths,” she said.

She added that vaccinations do not just help the people who receive them.

“Getting a flu vaccine protects you and the people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions,” she said.

Pirlot agreed with Miller on the importance of getting vaccinated for the flu.

“Indication from the CDC is that both influenza viruses and COVID-19 will be spreading. Therefore the CDC is stating that getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever this year,” she said.

As of mid-September, flu vaccines were starting to become available at OSF St. Francis, PHDM, doctor’s offices, clinics and pharmacies.

“Flu immunizations became available on September 1 and will be offered until we run out. At this time OSF HealthCare St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group is not anticipating a shortage of Flu immunizations,” Pirlot said.

PHDM is also planning to offer a drive-thru clinic on Saturday, Sept. 26.

“Our clinic is a convenient way to receive flu vaccine from the comfort of your vehicle. This is especially beneficial for those with limited mobility who don’t want to wait in a line,” Miller said.

In addition to getting vaccinated, people can minimize their risk of catching or spreading the flu by avoiding close contact with sick people; staying home from work or school when sick; cleaning/disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces at home, work and school; getting plenty of sleep; being physically active; taking steps to manage their stress; drinking fluids regularly; and eating a nutritious diet.

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