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Questions Arise for the Upcoming Flu Season

woman coughing with bottles of pills next to bed

Will the 2021-2022 flu season be bad?

By Michele Eggers, quality care coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 9/10/2021 at 4:15 p.m.
Updated on 12/15/2021 at 1:11 p.m. with input from Andrew Wheaton PharmD., manager of pharmacy benefits at Network Health

As days begin to become visibly shorter and the air becomes crisp and cool, those of us in the health community start to think about the upcoming flu season. Like clockwork, flu season brings uncomfortable and potentially severe symptoms to our communities from the fall through the next year’s spring.

Beyond just those people working in healthcare, the flu season is important for everyone to pay attention to in order to help avoid the worst of the flu symptoms and know the importance of the flu shot.

Beyond preventative measures like the flu shot, another great way to avoid the worst of the flu season is to be aware of how severe the season is likely to be.

A good 2020/21 flu season could mean a bad 2021/22 season

The CDC reports flu activity was unusually low throughout the 2020-2021 flu season compared to previous years. The drop in the number of influenza cases over the last year was likely influenced by measures taken to help control coronavirus, such as masking and social distancing, as well as a record number of influenza vaccine doses given in the U.S.

Some experts believe this will result in a bad flu season for 2021-2022 for two reasons.

First, human behavior may lead those tired of precautions such as lockdowns and masking to socializing at large gatherings and travel beyond pre-pandemic levels. This activity would increase exposure to respiratory viruses such as the flu.

Second, some fear lack of exposure to the flu virus last year (through illness, isolation or vaccination) will make people more susceptible this year.

While this sounds like a recipe for a concurrent outbreak with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, health experts have also expressed that this year’s flu season may bring a less dangerous strain of flu due to the lack of opportunity for the virus to evolve last season.

Mid-December 2021/2022 seasonal flu update

As of December 15, 2021, the 2021/2022 flu season is off to a slower start, but showing signs of a more rapid increase. Though flu activity remains relatively low at this point, the rate at which new cases are being detected has moved upward steadily over the previous three weeks, giving medical professionals concern.

For this reason, health professionals are encouraging everybody who can get the flu vaccine to do so and prevent an outbreak that might run concurrently with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking of, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published a page comparing and contrasting the 2021/2022 seasonal flu and COVID-19. You can view their full report by clicking here.

What can I do to prevent serious flu illness this winter?

Flu activity is always difficult to predict. The uncertainty around the 2021-2022 flu season makes vaccination even more important. Each year just under half the population gets vaccinated, despite the flu shot being recommended for almost all people over the age of six months, and especially those individuals at higher risk for complications due to age or chronic health conditions.

Although the flu vaccine is not 100% effective in preventing the flu, it generally reduces the severity of illness, allowing your body to recover more quickly.

Flu symptoms and serious complications decrease for people who received the flu vaccine. With circulating coronavirus variants and an expected increase in influenza cases this fall, it is even more important to get your annual flu shot. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection, we suggest working with your doctor or local pharmacist to receive your flu shot early in the fall, preferably before the end of October.

Here's a short list of ways to help protect yourself against the flu this winter.

  • Get an annual flu shot, preferably in September or October
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick, and limit contact with others when you are sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands afterward.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.

Make this winter A flu-free one

At Network Health, we’re building healthy and strong Wisconsin communities. Preventative measures like the flu shot are one of the best ways to help you, your family members and friends stay healthy this winter.. If you want more information on the flu or prevention, the CDC has a great web page you can visit by clicking here.

For more information on how your Wisconsin health plan can help keep you protected from serious illness year-round, contact us today.

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