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Health officials stress importance of getting vaccinated against the flu

LUMBERTON — Health officials in Raleigh and Robeson County are urging people to get vaccinated against influenza as the state enters the flu season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year, with COVID-19 still spreading in our communities, it’s critically important to get your flu vaccine,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services secretary. “Flu can be a serious, sometimes deadly, disease. It is important to get vaccinated against the flu to keep you and your family healthy.”

It is particularly important for pregnant women, children, adults ages 65 and older, and people with chronic health conditions to be vaccinated, said Bill Smith, Robeson County Health Department director. And there is a high dose vaccination available for these population groups.

“As flu and COVID-19 are both affecting your lungs, having them at the same time will overwhelm some people, thus the advise to get the flu shot,” Smith said.

Both illnesses can result in pneumonia, cardiac injuries, inflammation of the heart and sepsis, he said. COVID-19 can cause blood clots in the veins and arteries.

“If there was ever a year to get the flu shot this would be it,” Smith said.

Southeastern Health also is urging everyone to get vaccinated for the flu this season, said Dr. Obiefuna Okoye, Infectious Diseases medical director for Southeastern Health.

“This flu season’s flu vaccination will be the most important in most people’s lifetime,” he said.

It is suspected that COVID-19 rates will increase as the weather gets cold and people stay indoors, Okoye said. Staying indoors will increase the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Okoye said people can protect themselves from the flu and COVID-19 by getting the flu shot and practicing the 3 Ws: Wash, Wear, Wait — Wash hands always, social distance and wear masks/face coverings.

“Also, stay home when sick,” he said.

Influenza vaccines are available at all Southeastern Health primary care, walk-in and women’s health clinics.

Vaccinations also are available at pharmacies and health departments, Smith said.

“There may be drive-through events throughout the winter,” he said. “As our season runs later than further north, getting vaccinated prior to September is not recommended. Some places have not received their vaccine yet, while others have. One should contact the particular clinic to see what supplies are on hand.”

Flu season occurs in the fall and winter in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May. The overall health impact of a flu season varies from season to season.

In North Carolina, flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring, with activity usually peaking in January or February, according to the NCDHHS. The following precautions should be taken to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses like COVID-19:

— Stay home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours, except for COVID-19. Follow CDC guidance for end of isolation for COVID-19.

— Wash hands frequently with soap and water.

— Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly.

— Continue to practice the 3Ws — wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth, waiting 6 feet apart, and washing your hands often can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and flu.

COVID-19 and flu symptoms are similar, so individuals who feel ill should call ahead before going to a doctor’s office, local health department or urgent care, according the state health agency. Individuals should consult with a doctor about getting tested for flu and/or COVID-19.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough and/or sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills, fatigue, and nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, which is most common in children.

Anyone who thinks they have the flu should contact their doctor right away to see if they need treatment with a prescription antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu, according to the NCDHHS. Early treatment with an antiviral drug can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious. Treatment with a prescription antiviral drug is especially important for hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.

More information about the flu is available online through the Division of Public Health and from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/flu. For information about COVID-19 in North Carolina, visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov.

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