GUEST VIEW: Protect yourself against the flu, especially this season |

GUEST VIEW: Protect yourself against the flu, especially this season |

It’s fall and influenza (flu) season is here again. The flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. The virus spreads mainly from person to person through droplets that form when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. The virus can also be spread when people touch something with the flu virus on it and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. The flu can cause serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Anyone can get the flu, and serious problems can happen at any age.

In conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), the Niagara County Department of Health (NCDOH) recommends that everyone ages six and older months of age get a flu shot every year. According to the CDC, it’s recommended to get your flu shot in late October, but vaccination after that will still provide protection throughout the flu season. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body.

The New York State Department of Health conducts influenza surveillance from October through the following May. For the second week in a row, the flu is widespread across the state, including Niagara County, according to Daniel J. Stapleton, director of public health. We have seen a significant increase in the number of laboratory-confirmed cases and the number of people hospitalized statewide since last week.

The flu season in Australia, in the southern hemisphere, is ending; the country reported its worst flu season in five years, and the season started earlier than usual. Seasonal influenza trends for countries in the northern hemisphere tend to follow what is happening in the southern hemisphere.

There are many reasons to get a flu shot every year: flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick, it has been shown to reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick, and flu vaccination can reduce the risk of influenza-associated hospitalization. Influenza vaccination is an important preventive tool for people who are at increased risk of influenza complications and hospitalization, including adults over 65 years of age, children under 2 years of age, pregnant women, people living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and people with chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disorders, and diseases that result in compromised immune systems).

In addition to self-protection, the flu shot adds a layer of protection for members of our community who are most vulnerable to the flu. People who care for family members at home, people who spend time with pregnant women and babies, and people who work in child care settings, group homes, other group living settings, nursing homes, health care and schools should make flu vaccination a priority.

“In addition to vaccination, healthy behaviors to prevent the spread of the flu are also effective in preventing other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus),” Stapleton said. “To help protect the health of our community, it is important to stay home when you are sick; wash your hands often; cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing; wear a mask when appropriate; and practice social distancing.”

Influenza vaccines are widely available in the community and can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine. To receive a flu shot, contact your local health care provider or pharmacy, visit NCDOH’s Influenza/COVID-19 Vaccination Program, or visit www.vaccinefinder.org. For more information about the 2022-2023 influenza (flu) season, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/temporada/faq-flu-season-2022-2023.htm.

Tracy Fricano Chalmers, MS, is the director of Public Health Planning and Emergency Preparedness for the Niagara County Health Department.

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