Flu activity is starting up: What to know to protect yourself

This map from the CDC's influenza surveillance site shows flu activity for the week ending Nov....
This map from the CDC's influenza surveillance site shows flu activity for the week ending Nov. 20, 20201.(CDC)
Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 10:03 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Influenza let us largely off the hook last year, which has health officials on alert for what might lie ahead this season.

“We have had a couple times where we’ve had a very light flu season, then after a light season, we have a very difficult flu season, so I think that’s making a lot of us leery right now,” said Dr. Korri Phillips, medical director for Cotton O’Neil Express Care in Topeka.

Dr. Phillips says the hospital has seen a lot of respiratory illness this fall, and, while the Stormont Vail system has done more than 200 influenza tests, so far, none has come back positive.

But the latest weekly surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control shows why they want us to get ready. For the week ending Nov. 20, New Mexico reported high activity for influenza-like illness, while Georgia had moderate activity.

“With all the traveling that’s happened - we heard over 2 million people a day traveled over the holiday - and, so with that, means the virus is going to move with those people,” Dr. Phillips said. “We just need to be sure we’re ready for that - and obviously the biggest thing is get the flu shot.”

Dr. Phillips says Stormont has seen fewer people than usual getting flu shots this year. Rolling up your sleeve now gives time to build immunity before Christmas. Even if you still get sick, the vaccine will prevent more severe symptoms.

“We know that people that get their flu shots are less likely to be hospitalized. We know that people that have their COVID vaccines and are vaccinated are less likely to be hospitalized,” she said.

Health officials say you can get your flu and COVID shots at the same time. The CDC now recommends everyone over age 18 who got their last COVID vaccine dose at least six months ago get a booster.

“Essentially in the whole population, that immunity is waning, and with the morphing of the COVID virus, we need to make sure that our vaccines are boosted as high as they can be before you have exposure to it,” Dr. Phillips said.

Besides vaccinations, Dr. Phillips says everyone needs to re-focus on those good habits stressed throughout the pandemic to keep both COVID - and flu - from spreading.

“Good hand washing and making sure that you’re limiting your time in crowded areas; wearing a mask, make sure you wear it appropriately, limit the amount of time that you’re touching your face,” she said. “We really shouldn’t be going to work, going to school, going to daycare when we’re sick.”

You can get an influenza vaccine by appointment through your primary care doctor, or at many local pharmacies.

The CDC has provides information about influenza prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and current influenza activity at its flu.gov web site.

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