This is National Influenza Vaccination Week and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases is urging everyone age six months and older to get an annual influenza vaccine, especially adults whose chronic health conditions put them at higher risk.
Natalie Wiethoff, infection preventionist at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, said this month Schneck has seen a significant increase in the number of influenza cases.
“Currently, approximately 12% of patients presenting to Schneck’s emergency department have a positive flu test,” Wiethoff said. “In comparison, in September and October of this year, the flu rate at Schneck was less than 1%.”
She said the numbers include all patients seen in the emergency department regardless of whether or not they are admitted.
“There have been patients testing positive for flu who have required admission to the hospital due to the severity of illness,” Wiethoff said. “The positive cases have been influenza A. In 2021, there was not an increase in positive flu cases until March. The highest rate in 2021 was 6% as the severity of the 2021-2022 season was much lower.”
She said it is not too late to get a flu vaccine and the Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone ages six months and older get a flu vaccine annually as this is the best way to reduce your risk of severe flu illness and National Influenza Vaccination Week serves to remind people that there is still time to benefit from an annual flu vaccine if you have not done so already.
“All flu vaccines this season are quadrivalent vaccines and protect against four different influenza viruses including two influenza A and two influenza B viruses,” she said. “Individuals who would like to get a flu vaccine should contact their primary care provider or the local health department.
According to the CDC ,influenza activity is considered “high” or “very high” in several states across the country. In response, the American Lung Association launched a campaign on Monday to educate adults about the flu with the goal of increasing vaccination rates, specifically for people with high-risk conditions.
“Flu activity has been relatively low the last two flu seasons because of COVID-19 precautions, but this year we are already seeing more cases than previous years,” said Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association.
“While anyone can get the flu, certain people are at increased risk for developing serious complications such as those living with chronic medical conditions including asthma, COPD and other chronic lung diseases as well as heart disease and diabetes,” he said.
Wimmer said getting a flu shot protects you, and the people around you. That’s why it is critical for everyone to get their annual flu shot. If you haven’t had your flu shot yet, now is the time.
In past flu seasons, nine out of 10 adults hospitalized with flu have at least one underlying medical condition. In addition to those with medical conditions, people from racial and ethnic minority groups are at higher risk for being hospitalized with flu and have lower flu vaccination rates compared with non-Hispanic white adults.
In the 2021-22 flu season, 53.9% of white adults got the flu shot while only 37.9% of Hispanic/Latino adults, 42% of Black adults, and 40.9% of American Indian/Alaska Native adults were vaccinated, according to lung.org.
James A. Martinez, senior director of communications for the American Lung Association, said peak flu season usually occurs from December through March.
“Flu vaccination is the best way to help protect against flu and severe illness from the virus and is recommended for everyone six months of age and older,” he said. “The flu shot can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccination and protection from flu vaccination takes about two weeks to develop.”
Through the new campaign, the association has partnered with CSL Seqirus to educate the public about the flu and the steps they can take to protect themselves from severe flu illness. Learn more at Lung.org/prevent-flu.
The “Caregiver Flu Toolkit” is a comprehensive guide to educate caregivers of adults 65 and over about flu and the importance of vaccination to help protect them from contracting the flu. The free downloadable guide is available at Lung.org/Fend-Off-Flu.
In addition to vaccination, the CDC recommends these everyday preventive actions; Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth; cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue or your elbow; and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Wiethoff said she also tracks RSV and other respiratory illnesses and the increased RSV positivity started here in Jackson County back in October.
“Anyone can become infected with RSV and most everyone has been exposed at some point in their life,” she said. “However, children under two and individuals with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for severe symptoms associated with RSV.”
The symptoms are similar to a cold but can progress quickly which can be scary for those with young children. Frequent handwashing is so crucial as well, she added.
An announcement was made by the CDC on Monday, encouraging people to wear masks to help reduce the spread of all respiratory illnesses this season including COVID, flu and RSV, which are circulating at the same time. There is no vaccine for RSV.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said wearing a mask is one of several everyday precautions that people can take to reduce their chances of catching or spreading a respiratory virus during the busy holiday season.
For information about flu vaccinations call Jackson County Health Department at 812-522-6474. Vaccinations are also available at JayC Food Stores, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart Supercenter in Seymour.