October marks the start of the 2021-2022 influenza season, and given the State’s ongoing fight against COVID-19, officials with the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) said it is more important than ever for Delawareans to protect themselves and loved ones by getting the flu vaccine as soon as possible. The flu vaccine is vital in helping avoid significant illness from the flu, including hospitalization and death, they said.
Children younger than 5, older adults, pregnant women and those who have chronic underlying medical conditions are most at risk for complications from the flu and are being strongly encouraged to get vaccinated now. DPH also urged vaccination for those who live or work with infants younger than 6 months, as well as those who live or work in congregant settings, such as long-term care and correctional facilities.
“Because the number of cases dropped last year, many people think the flu has disappeared, but in fact, the flu is still a major health threat, as it is highly contagious and can be deadly,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “At a time when hospitals are under tremendous strain from the coronavirus pandemic, we need to do all we can to keep even more people from overwhelming emergency departments and hospitals with flu illness. Getting the flu vaccine is the one key step to keep that from happening.”
“With pandemic safety practices easing,” Rattay continued, “more Delawareans are interacting outside the home, more public events are happening, and fewer people are wearing masks. These things make it easier for the flu to spread. The flu vaccine is the strongest defense when it comes to keeping yourself and family members safe and preventing severe illness, hospitalization and possibly death.”
Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against influenza virus infection to develop in the body, Rattay said it is important to get vaccinated as early as possible to give the body time to build immunity. Getting the flu vaccine now will also provide protection during the entire flu season, she said.
Flu vaccines are available at pharmacies (including those in grocery stores), participating medical provider offices and Federally Qualified Health Centers (for their patients), as well as Division of Public Health clinics. DPH is also advising the public that the flu vaccine can be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine. While DPH no longer holds mass community flu vaccination clinics, it will offer flu vaccines at community-based locations where staff are administering COVID-19 vaccines, officials noted.
Flu symptoms come on suddenly, and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue. Children, older adults and those who have chronic underlying medical conditions are most at risk for complications from the flu and are being strongly encouraged to get vaccinated now.
Some signs and symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, including fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue. Testing can effectively help people determine which illness they have.
Those sick with the flu should stay home from work, school and other gatherings and not return until they have been free of fever — with temperature less than 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C), without the use of fever-reducing medications — for at least 24 hours.
In addition, people with flu symptoms should avoid close contact with well people in the household and stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other clear liquids. Over-the-counter medicines can provide symptom relief, but if those who suspect they have influenza, can call their doctor, as a doctor may decide to provide antiviral medications to help hasten recovery and prevent serious complications. That is particularly important for those who feel very sick, are pregnant or have chronic medical conditions, officials said.
For more information about the flu and where to get vaccinated, visit flu.delaware.gov or call 1-800-282-8672.