If there’s any silver lining to the curse of COVID-19, it’s that regional deaths from the regular seasonal flu last fall and winter dropped dramatically. That’s one trend we’d like to see continue — and getting the flu vaccine would help make it so.
In North Carolina, flu deaths each year are generally significant — 186 flu-related deaths during the 2019-20 season; 208 in 2018-19; 391 in 2017-18, the Winston-Salem Journal’s Richard Craver reported last week.
But last season, 2020-21, there were only seven flu-related deaths, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
What made the difference seems to be the COVID-inspired mask wearing and social distancing that limited opportunities for the flu to spread.
The lesson taken from that shouldn’t be, though, that the flu is no longer a problem.
“Other respiratory viruses have seemed to make a comeback, which makes me think that the flu will also,” Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious diseases expert with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, warns.
True, we’re still practicing safety measures because of the delta variant that rose thanks to reluctant non-vaxxers, but many of us are likely to be less stringent with those measures, especially those who have been vaccinated for COVID and are now enjoying the company of others who have been vaccinated for COVID.
When this season’s influenza rises, it will take any opportunity we give it to spread.
Comparisons between the flu and COVID are inevitable. They both can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing. Many who have suffered the ravages of COVID have responded to it by saying, “This is not the flu — it’s much worse.” But getting the flu is no picnic; its symptoms can be painful, debilitating and even deadly. They can include a fever of 100 degrees or higher (though not everyone with the flu has a fever); a cough and/or sore throat; a runny or stuffy nose; headaches, body aches; chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Even if the flu virus doesn’t kill, it can require hospitalization.
And, frankly, we need those hospital beds for COVID patients right now.
The flu vaccine is updated annually and is is 40-60% effective at preventing flu-related sicknesses. Even if you should become infected with the virus, the vaccine helps to ease to severity of the symptoms.
Some are more susceptible to the flu than others — those over age 65, children younger than age 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or obesity, in particular. But it can still strike anyone. One flu victim in 2019 was, sadly, Lacie Rian Fisher, a 15-year-old cheerleader and straight-A student from Canton who died at the end of December, less than 72 hours after symptoms first appeared.
Another lesson we should have learned from COVID is just how vulnerable we are to disease — especially when we deny the seriousness of the pandemic
The flu vaccine is available in doctor’s offices, health care clinics, county health departments, pharmacies, drugstores and grocery stores with pharmacies, and college health centers. The shots are usually free for people with private insurance as well as Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
Hospital stays are much more expensive.
It also doesn’t hurt, we’re learning now, to get the flu vaccine and the COVID vaccine at the same time. Those who are eligible for their third Pfizer dose — or their first — will likely be able to get a flu shot at the same appointment.
The traditional flu season runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, though the flu has lingered well into April and May during some seasons. But why not nip it in the bud?
The sooner the better, health experts say. The vaccine takes about two weeks to take full effect in your body.
So today would be a fine day to be vaccinated — for the flu, and if you haven’t done so yet, for COVID as well.
—(The Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record