INDIANAPOLIS – As health professionals prepare to deal with another winter surge of COVID-19 cases, they’re also warning Americans to not forget about a more familiar issue; the flu.
In 2020, flu season was pretty much a non-issue. COVID mitigation efforts such as wearing face masks, staying home, hand washing, and social distancing helped keep flu activity to remarkably low levels. According to the CDC, flu-related fossilizations were also the lowest since 2005, when record keeping began.
But with loosening restrictions, pandemic fatigue, and the tendency for people to gather indoors during the colder months, health professionals are concerned we could see the flu reemerge.
“It’s like here we go again. But it’s no less important this time than it was last time in probably even more important because we’re potentially getting close as vaccinations become more prevalent. It can help to reduce the reservoir of potentially infected patients to further spread the COVID virus. The more we can do now to nip it in the bud the better we’ll be months down the road,” IU Health Dr. Anthony Zabel said.
Zabel added that having a bad flu season in the setting of the current pandemic will only take up more beds in hospitals and use more resources that are already stretched thin.
“It just muddies the waters further if you’re trying to deal with both at the same time,” he said.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh theorize there could be anywhere from 20% to 50 % higher than the amount of flu cases in a normal year, resulting in 600,000 hospitalizations. Without making any such predictions, Zabel says he believes this year it will become all the more important for people to get their flu shot.
“Just because last year we didn’t see hardly any influenza, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go and get your flu vaccine this year. And, actually kind of because of the current delta variant outbreaks, it’s more important to get your flu vaccine. Because of those select few people who may become seriously ill from the flu, the resources are limited as far as the capacity to care for them. So as much as you can do to protect yourself from influenza this season it’s that much more important,” Zabel said.
Zabel says its usually best to get the flu shot around late fall to maximize its protection around peak season in January and February. However, he says if you can get one now, you should.