Flu season has arrived in Missouri, and state health officials are urging individuals to get vaccinated now to protect themselves and their families, prevent the spread of flu, and ease the burden of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses that have and continue to impact the healthcare system.
Although the number of flu cases reported through surveillance activities during the 2020 season was much lower than normal, the public should not lower their guard and fail to get vaccinated. Last year’s lower activity was partially due to citizen awareness of protection measures, such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, and avoiding the public when sick. Additionally, a record number of flu vaccines were distributed in the United States last season, which likely reduced flu illnesses even further.
“Getting your annual flu shot this fall is even more important this year as we continue to take action against COVID-19,” said Donald Kauerauf, Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). “We encourage every person over the age of 6 months to get a flu shot to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community against flu and its associated complications. Each flu season is different, and citizens need to practice individual protective actions including getting vaccinated.”
More individuals with a greater level of protection against the flu also helps ease the burden that the state’s healthcare system continues to face due to COVID-19 and the other potentially serious respiratory viruses that have been active this year, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Individuals who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19 can do so at the same time as they get their annual flu immunization.
On Friday, October 15, DHSS began its statewide surveillance reporting for the 2021-2022 flu season. Weekly data is published every Friday and includes the number of diagnosed influenza cases, influenza-like illness (ILI) visits to the ER, and flu-related hospitalizations across Missouri. From October 3-9, 28 laboratory-confirmed flu cases were reported in Missouri. The number of cases is within the expected range for this time of year.
Flu can be very serious. Nearly every year in the United States, millions of people get the flu, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands die from flu-related illnesses. The most common symptoms of flu are fever, cough, and sore throat. Symptoms can also include body aches, headaches, chills, runny nose, and fatigue.
“Missourians experienced many disruptions in their lives due to COVID-19 in the past 19 months,” said Kauerauf. “I understand that everyone is tired of COVID-19. However, taking steps now to protect yourself from influenza, which includes getting your flu vaccination, will help us all avoid experiencing more of those disruptions at work and school.”
Groups of people at high risk for flu-related complications include children age 5 and under, adults older than 65, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease.
“It is important for parents to understand that while their young children may have a lower risk of severe illness from COVID-19, young children are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications,” said Kauerauf. “Children under age 2 may have added vulnerability because they’ve never experienced any exposure to the influenza virus.”
Those who are in a high-risk group and experience symptoms of the flu should contact their primary health care provider.
Flu vaccines are now widely available, and it is recommended annually for everyone 6 months and older. Additionally, a COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine can be given at the same time. Contact your healthcare provider, or find a location near you for either vaccine at Vaccines.gov. For more information regarding flu in Missouri, visit The Missouri Stops Flu website.