If you’ve been paying attention to the happenings around you, you’ve probably heard the frightening news of the earlier, more severe spike of influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other illnesses compared to previous years. COVID-19 continues its hold over the healthcare system, as well.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and RiverView Health are urging people to protect themselves from getting sick and protect hospitals from an overflow of patients by getting their flu shots.
According to MDH, less than a quarter of Minnesotans had gotten their flu shot as of Nov. 1. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 50 percent of the eligible population would’ve gotten their flu shot by that date.
“People seem to have forgotten about flu shots in the midst of the pandemic, but it’s time to prioritize your flu shot again,” an MDH representative was quoted as saying recently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that from Oct. 1, 2022-Nov. 19, 2022, there had already been at least 6.2 million illnesses, 53,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 deaths from influenza.
Influenza, RSV Hit Our Area
While RiverView’s Inpatient Unit hasn’t been overwhelmed with influenza patients, Annie Waldal, director of the Inpatient Unit and Emergency Department (ED), said the ED had seen many patients with influenza and RSV.
MDH data shows influenza usually surges in Minnesota in mid to late December, but in 2022, the spike began about a month earlier than usual.
Health officials are asking all eligible people to get the flu shot, even if they’ve already been hit by the flu bug this season. The vaccine protects against four strains of influenza. So, even if you’ve already had the flu, there’s a chance you could still pick up another strain circulating this year. The shot could prevent you from getting sick from another strain.
It is also possible to have the flu and other respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, at the same time. If you haven’t gotten your COVID-19 vaccination or booster, this is also the time to get vaccinated. As of Nov. 23, community transmission for COVID-19 spread was reported as “high’’ in Polk County. It is safe to get the influenza and COVID vaccinations at the same appointment.
Recommendations to Stay Healthy
With so many illnesses peaking sooner, faster, and stronger than usual, the Minnesota Hospital Association recommends the following:
- Stay home if you or your family are sick.
- Wash hands often.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or shirt sleeve, not your hands.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and mobile devices.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Mask when appropriate.
- Stay up to date on flu shots and COVID-19 boosters.
- Flu shots are recommended annually for adults and kids six months or older.
- COVID-19 vaccine boosters are recommended for adults and children five years and older if it has been at least two months since their last vaccine dose. People who recently had a COVID-19 infection may consider delaying their booster until three months after the first positive test or when symptoms started.
- Consider a primary care provider or telehealth options for non-emergency care.
- Have a primary care provider for your entire family. Stay connected and up-to-date with preventative care so the primary care team can partner with you on all health-related issues.
- Always go to the emergency department for emergencies or life-threatening illnesses and injuries, and call 9-1-1 if you need immediate medical attention. As RSV is particularly dangerous for children, seek emergency medical assistance if advised by their primary care provider or if children are experiencing any severe symptoms.
Call RiverView Health at 281.9595 to schedule you and your family for flu and COVID-19 immunizations.