(UNDATED) – The Indiana Department of Health is encouraging Hoosiers to get vaccinated against influenza to help protect them from the contagious respiratory illness that sickens thousands of Hoosiers each year and claimed more than 130 lives in the 2019-2020 flu season.
“Getting a flu shot is more important than ever this year as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” said State Health Commissioner Kris Box, M.D., FACOG. “Influenza is a respiratory illness that, along with COVID, could easily overwhelm the healthcare system if we see a large number of cases, so I urge every Hoosier who is eligible to get vaccinated.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year. Dr. Box said that because infants under 6 months can’t be vaccinated, it’s important that anyone in a household where a young baby lives or visits get a flu shot to protect the child. Healthcare workers also are urged to get a flu vaccine to reduce their risk of transmitting illness to their patients.
COVID-19 and influenza are both contagious respiratory illnesses that are spread primarily by respiratory droplets released when infected people cough, sneeze, talk, laugh or sing, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while the flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to confirm a diagnosis.
The measures recommended to prevent the spread of influenza are similar to those recommended for helping Hoosiers prevent the spread of coronavirus. They are as follows:
- Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick, too.
- Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent you from spreading your illness to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses are spread by cough, sneezing or unclean hands.
- Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives Tips on hand washing and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers
- It’s a SNAP Toolkit: Handwashing Hand washing resources from the It’s a SNAP program, aimed at preventing school absenteeism by promoting clean hands; from the School Network for Absenteeism Prevention, a collaborative project of the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Cleaning Institute.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when people touch something that is contaminated with germs and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
- Wear a mask. Masks can reduce the transmission of all respiratory illnesses, including the flu.
- Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
Although anyone can get the flu, some people are at higher risk of flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, hospitalization and death. High-risk individuals include pregnant women, young children (especially those too young to get vaccinated), people with chronic illnesses, people who are immunocompromised and the elderly. It is especially important for these individuals to be vaccinated each year.
“Older Hoosiers are especially vulnerable to the flu each year, so the time to get vaccinated is now,” Dr. Box said.
Flu season typically runs from October through May. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body.
To find the nearest location to get a flu shot, visit https://vaccinefinder.org/.
According to the CDC, flu vaccinations should be postponed for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms, until they have met the criteria to discontinue their isolation, to avoid exposing healthcare personnel and other patients to the virus that causes COVID-19. When scheduling or confirming appointments for vaccination, patients should notify their provider’s office or clinic in advance if they currently have or develop any symptoms of COVID-19. A flu vaccine given when an individual is ill will not be as effective at helping that person develop immunity.
For more information on influenza, vaccinations and prevention, visit the Indiana Department of Health at https://www.in.gov/isdh/25462.htm.