Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson and Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection Ray Barishansky joined public health officials at UPMC West Shore to urge residents to get their flu vaccine at the start of flu season as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“Every flu season is different and this flu season leaves a lot of unknowns,” said Dr. Johnson. “One thing we do know is the flu is serious and can be deadly, which is why it is extremely important that Pennsylvanians are receiving their flu vaccine now. While there is no better measure to protect yourself from flu than to get a flu vaccine, I encourage people to take other preventative measures to protect themselves from the spread of the flu.”
This year, both the flu shot and nasal spray are available and recommended for everyone six months of age and older to protect against the flu. The flu vaccine can often diminish the severity of symptoms a person might experience should they come down with the flu.
“It is safe to visit your doctor’s office, pharmacy, local walk-in clinic or grocery store to get your flu vaccine,” said Barishansky. “There are also seasonal flu clinics distributing the flu shot to anyone ages six months and older. A full list of upcoming clinics can be found at health.pa.gov. The vaccine process is quick, easy and helps protect not only yourself, but anyone you may come into contact with this flu season. We recommend doing so before flu activity begins in your community, ideally before the end of October.”
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness, caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the nose, throat and lungs and may include the following symptoms:
- Dry cough;
- Sore throat;
- Nasal congestion; and
- Body aches.
Similarly, COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath;
- Repeated shaking with chills;
- Muscle pain;
- Sore throat; and
- New loss of taste or smell.
It is possible for individuals to contract both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time.
“As our communities start to relax COVID-19 containment measures – such as masking and social distancing – we’re seeing a resurgence of other respiratory viruses, which does not bode well for the flu season ahead,” Dr. John D. Goldman, infectious disease specialist at UPMC in Central PA said. “Healthcare workers across the region, state and nation have been working tirelessly for over 18 months now battling the COVID-19 pandemic and the predictive models for influenza are concerning. But there is something our community members can do to help control the spread of flu in our region – get your flu vaccine. It’s simple, safe and effective.”
Since the flu and COVID-19 are comparable, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. The best way to prevent respiratory illness at this time is to get the flu vaccine. It takes about two weeks for the antibodies from the vaccine to develop protection against infection. This small but powerful action will protect your family, friends and frontline health care workers who will be caring for sick people with respiratory illnesses this fall and winter.
The flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death, while the COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk of COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death. It is important to get both vaccines to protect yourself against both viruses. The CDC reported that it is safe to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.
In addition to getting vaccinated, Pennsylvanians are encouraged to practice preventative healthy habits like using your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, frequently washing your hands during flu season and remembering to disinfect commonly-touched objects, such as door knobs, light switches, countertops, cell phones and computers.
If you do become sick with the flu, it is important to stay home and rest. If you are at risk for developing serious complications from the flu, or feel extremely ill, you should see a medical professional immediately.