Flu season arrives amid lingering COVID threat

·2 min read

Sep. 23—TRIAD — Don't forget about flu season.

That's the message from health care professionals as the annual period for greatest risk of flu, from fall into winter, prepares to ramp up. For the past two years, the flu season has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, and steps such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing to counter COVID-19 also limited the spread of the flu.

For the upcoming season, medical professionals are worried that the widespread decline of wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 transmission may lead to a more typical spread of the flu.

Health care professionals expect that flu season may be more severe than usual based on assessments of influenza cases during the winter in the Southern Hemisphere, which corresponds with our summer, said Dr. Charles Bregier, medical director of employee occupational health and corporate health with Novant Health out of Charlotte.

"But you can't really tell until you are in it," Bregier said during a media briefing Friday.

Also, medical professionals are worried about patients contracting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which would increase the health risk, he said. As with COVID-19 vaccinations, flu inoculations help people avoid getting severe symptoms if they contract influenza.

The vaccine for the coming influenza season will protect against four strains. Flu vaccines typically lead to a 40% to 60% reduction in severe illnesses and hospitalizations among people getting the shot, Bregier said.

As people prepare to get the latest COVID-19 booster shots, Bregier said, it's safe to get the flu vaccine at the same time. It may be advisable for people with busy schedules to get shots together because you won't have to make separate trips for each inoculation, he said.

"Flu season is knocking at the door," Bregier said.

People most at risk for serious complications from contracting the flu include older adults, young children, people with serious health conditions or those with compromised immune systems, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says.

"The flu is a contagious respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death," the state health agency says.

pjohnson@hpenews.com — 336-888-3528 — @HPEpaul