How to Prepare & Protect Yourself This Flu Season
As sure as the leaves are going to change in New England this fall, at just about the same time there will be a new strain of flu circulating in our communities.
While we can never be certain how bad any given flu season will be, we do know that the flu is not something to take lightly. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that during the 2022-2023 flu season (October 1, 2022-April 30, 2023) as many as 650,000 Americans were hospitalized with the flu and up to 58,000 people died because of it.
The good news is that you can take steps now to make sure you or a loved one are not part of next year’s statistics. Here’s where to start:
Get a flu vaccine
Vaccines are now available at medical practices and many drug stores. Many drug stores offer online scheduling to make getting the vaccine easier than ever.
While important for people of all ages, flu shots are especially important for older adults, who are at higher risk of complications from the virus. If you’re over the age of 65, be sure to ask for a high-dose or senior dose flu shot, which include up to 4 times as much flu virus antigen—the part of the vaccine that stimulates the immune system—as standard flu vaccines.
Schedule a COVID booster along with your flu shot
As much as we’d like to think COVID is a thing of the past, it’s still very much with us. In fact, COVID hospitalizations in the U.S. climbed 22% the last week of August.
Experts agree that it is safe to get your Covid booster and flu shot at the same time. The fall COVID vaccines specifically target the most recent variant and are recommended for everyone, especially those deemed to be at higher risk.
Consider wearing a mask and keep your hands clean
As new strains of the flu and variants of COVID gain traction, wearing a mask and washing your hands regularly are two of the simplest ways to avoid infection.
Regular hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol will also reduce your risk of getting or spreading both the flu and COVID.
If you do contract the flu, contact your provider. There are medications available for the flu that, if taken early, may decrease severity of the illness.
If you have—or even suspect you have—the flu or a flu-like illness, stay home. Doing so will help with your recovery and will work to protect family, friends, coworkers and others from getting sick.
Marie J. George, MD, FIDSA is an Infectious Disease Specialist in Southwestern Vermont Healthcare in Bennington, VT.