Health District urges caution as flu season arrives

Published 10:40 am Thursday, November 3, 2022

With the COVID-19 pandemic mellowing out, folks need to still be cautious as flu season is already here.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), this year’s flu season is showing early signs of being worse than in recent years. Case numbers have started out strong and early this year showing that the seasonal flu has returned stronger.

According to Lisa Sollot, VDH respiratory disease coordinator in the division of surveillance and investigation, the flu is very unpredictable and the health department does its best to look at data and use various tools to prepare for what may come. The reason this flu season could be worse is due to the COVID-19 pandemic the past two years.

“During the pandemic, a lot of people became aware of the COVID-19 virus and many didn’t get the flu vaccine or encounter the flu as we didn’t really see much activity,” said Sollot.

Due to the flu numbers being low the past two years, many people have lost some of their immunity to it. According to Sollot, many people will have to refamiliarize their immune systems with this season’s strand of flu and recommends getting the flu shot to help fight it.

As of Oct. 15, the highest influenza-like illness intensity level observed in any region was a four which is low with only 3.6% of emergency department and urgent care center visits.

According to the VDH weekly influenza report, Central Virginia has risen from approximately 2.5% to 3% of those seeking care for influenza-like illnesses. This is the lowest in Virginia, almost tieing with the Southwest and right below Eastern and Northwest regions.

The best way to reduce the risk of the flu and the complications that can come with it is to get vaccinated each year. As the flu strand mutates every year, Shallot recommends getting the vaccine each year to fight the new one.

“I can’t state this enough, the best thing to do for you and your family is to get the seasonal vaccine,” said Sollot.

According to the VDH, the 2022-2023 flu vaccine is designed to protect against what is believed to be the most common influenza viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is safe to get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time if eligible and the timing lines up. The new COVID-19 provides protection from the original strain and the Omnicron subvariants.

Along with the flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are out there. The best practices to prevent contracting these viruses are to stay home when feeling sick, using your elbow to cover coughs and sneezes and frequently washing your hands.