Preventing influenza takes on extra importance this year
As we continue to work hard to keep COVID-19 on the decline in our region, we move into the Fall with another potential threat on the horizon, which is influenza. Every year, the flu season brings with it not just more respiratory illness that includes fevers, coughs, and sore throats but also a number of hospitalizations and flu-related deaths. Because healthcare systems across the country and world are already fearing another surge of COVID-19 cases during the Fall and Winter, there is concern a wave of influenza infections could overwhelm strained hospitals and clinics.
Luckily, there has been some evidence that precautions to prevent COVID-19 may help prevent flu. In the southern hemisphere, their flu season usually starts earlier in the year, and we can get a preview of what our season may look like. So far, countries in the southern hemisphere have not seen large numbers of flu cases. Experts think that less travel, social distancing, and mask-wearing are all helping. However, some countries such as Australia and New Zealand also saw record numbers of influenza vaccinations this year.
There is no guarantee that we won’t see a surge of influenza in the United States. One of Mattern’s Rules of Medicine is that you have to control what you can control (and then hope for a bit of luck). This means continuing social distancing, good hand-washing, staying home when you don’t feel well, and wearing masks. It also means getting a flu shot.
Why do I recommend a flu shot for ALL patients over the age of 6 months? The more people who get the flu vaccine, the less flu-like illness we see. Not only does it protect the person who receives the shot, but if they don’t get the disease, they won’t spread it to someone else. As we have seen with COVID-19, while one person can have milder symptoms, another may get severely ill. That is why my entire family and I get the shot every year.
There are some common myths about the flu shot. Some people think that the flu shot mainly since the vaccine changes slightly from year to year to match the flu strains for that season. However, studies have repeatedly shown that flu shots cut down on the need for doctor visits,
We are working to make influenza vaccines easy to get. Jefferson Healthcare is now scheduling appointments for flu vaccination. Flu vaccination is an important component of an individual’s wellness plan.
hospitalizations, intensive care treatment, and death in younger and older patients. Models for the 2018-2019 flu season suggest that when 49% of the US population got the flu shot, over 4 million cases of influenza, 58,000 hospitalizations and 3500 deaths were prevented.
Another concern is the impact of the flu shot on someone’s immune system. It turns out that not only is the flu shot safe for people with chronic health conditions; evidence shows it helps their immune system and overall health. People with chronic lung disease are less likely to develop exacerbations and end up in the hospital. People with heart disease are less likely to have heart attacks and cardiac events when they get the flu shot. Pregnant women are less likely to end up in the hospital with the flu, and their newborn babies gain protection against the flu for the first few months of life.
This year, preventing influenza takes on extra importance. Since symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza are similar, if more people get the flu, it will lead to more testing and evaluations in clinics and emergency rooms. This also means that more people can end up in the hospital from both illnesses. It also means more people who may have to quarantine and isolate when they get ill, interfering with schools and businesses’ efforts to stay open.
Dr. Joe Mattern, MD, FAAFP & HMDC is a primary care provider at Jefferson Healthcare Sheridan Clinic. In addition, he is the Chief Medical Officer for the hospital and the Medical Director for Home Health and Hospice.