This winter’s flu season has had a slow start, says Jeremy Cauwels, M.D., chief physician of Sanford Health.
Usually, influenza cases peak in January and February in the Upper Midwest, where Sanford Health is based. But state health departments nationwide are reporting low to minimal cases of flu as of late January.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t have any but at this point, we will either have a much later flu outbreak or a minimal flu outbreak,” Dr. Cauwels said.
Globally, even with continued or increased testing for influenza in some countries, the World Health Organization reported influenza activity remains at lower levels than expected for this time of the year.
Possible reasons? Changes in behavior and better prevention. Hygiene and physical distancing measures meant to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus have likely played a role in reducing the spread of the flu virus, the WHO said.
What if you start to get flu symptoms?Remember that flu symptoms usually start abruptly and cause symptoms like cough, sore throat, fever, body aches, headache, and fatigue. Jill Olson, M.D., a family medicine physician at Sanford Bemidji Main Clinic in Bemidji, Minnesota, recommended: “First, I recommend isolating yourself, whether this means staying home from work, school or other activities as well as isolating yourself from others in your home. The next step would be to call your primary care provider or local primary care clinic for further direction on if testing is needed or not.”
When is the best time to get a flu vaccine?The sooner, the better, says Natalie Braun, a certified physician assistant in family medicine at Sanford Aberdeen Clinic in Aberdeen, South Dakota. “Due to previous influenza seasons lagging into the months of April and May, it is important to know that anytime during the flu season is good to get vaccinated if you miss the early recommendations.”
Who should get a flu vaccine?“Everyone who is able to should get an influenza vaccine,” said Joe Mowery, D.O., a family medicine doctor at Sanford 69th & Minnesota Clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “Those at high risk for complications from the flu include:
- Those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, COPD or diabetes
- Pregnant women
- Adults 65 years and older
- Cancer patients
- Young children
What do you say to people who don’t like shots?“I say if you like shots then you are unusual,” said Jennifer Raum, M.D., at Sanford Broadway Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota. “Fortunately, the influenza vaccine uses a really small needle that stings for a second or two. I’ve seen kids not even blink an eye when they get it. And I’ve treated plenty of patients who seriously regret not having gotten the shot. It doesn’t take a lot of convincing for those people to get the vaccine from then on.”
Why is getting a flu vaccine even more important this year?“Getting the flu vaccine every year is important,” said Khalin Dendy, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Sanford Fifth & Broadway Clinic in Bismarck, North Dakota. “This year it is expected that COVID-19 will continue to be active during the flu season. Both COVID-19 and flu can pose serious health risks to individuals. Co-infection, being infected with both flu and COVID-19, likely increases that risk. The flu vaccine does not guarantee you will not contract the flu but does decrease chance of infection and makes it less severe. Reducing your and others’ risk of flu by receiving the flu vaccine will improve the chance of adequate health care resources for those individuals that do develop severe COVID-19 or flu.”
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