LACONIA – John Prickett, registered nurse and emergency preparedness coordinator, has seen many flu seasons in his 39 years at Lakes Region General Hospital. But this year his work is a little more strategic and his focus is a little more pressing.
“Get a flu vaccine. Protect yourself. 2020 is going to be a weird year, “Prickett said.” This is kind of a new area for all of us. “
At a time when COVID-1
This season, healthcare workers and the public will fight the viruses on two fronts: trying to ward off COVID-19 and the flu, which typically peaks from December to March. Fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue – the symptoms of the two are nearly identical, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And that makes it difficult to know exactly what you are dealing with.
“Right now, everything we can do to avoid infectious respiratory diseases, colds and especially the flu becomes really important,” said Dr. Nora Janeway, medical director of Health First Family Care. Statewide, flu vaccination rates stand at 52%, according to CDC data from 2018-2019. Vaccination rates in New Hampshire range from 37 percent of young adults, to 72 percent of children under 5, and adults aged 65 and over, the most vulnerable age groups.
“I’m impressed by how many of my older patients,” including those who smoke or have diabetes, “say, ‘I don’t usually get sick, so I don’t want a flu shot,’ or ‘I have the flu shot once and yeah he got cold two weeks later, “Janeway said. “I appreciate all those people who are robust individualists and want to manage their own health care. But when it comes to getting a flu shot, I wish I could move the bar a bit. “
The fact that COVID and flu symptoms closely match can make the diagnosis confusing for patients and professionals, and this can delay time-sensitive treatment.
“Do I have COVID? Or do I have the flu? Or do I have both?” Said Prickett, a flu ambassador for nearly 20 years, who has administered thousands of flu vaccines. “By getting the vaccine, you eliminate one of these strangers.”
The value of flu vaccines goes beyond personal protection. In a normal flu season, health systems are stressed and decreasing hospitalizations for flu will help hospitals respond to potential COVID cases, said Beth Daly, head of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at the NH Department of Health and Human Services. . On average, flu shots reduce doctor visits for flu-related illnesses by 60 percent, he said.
This year’s vaccines are expected to be highly effective, containing three or four non-living strains of influenza A and influenza B, inactive versions of severe and less severe flu strains that together signal the body to mount antibodies.
The flu vaccination will help relieve stress from local health systems by counteracting a simultaneous spike in COVID and influenza during the winter, said Tammy Charmichael, executive director of the Partnership for Public Health for the Winnipesaukee region.
Flu shots are especially critical for people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, Prickett said. Medical science still knows relatively little about the coronavirus, and although a vaccine is expected before or during the first half of 2021, there are still many unknowns, including how much is widely available.
According to the CDC, symptoms of COVID and flu include fever or feeling of fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or aches, sore head and vomiting or diarrhea, which is more common in children than adults with the flu. More specific to COVID is a change or loss of taste or smell and nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea in adults.
Aside from vaccination, “The simplest way to avoid getting the flu is to wash your hands and not touch your face,” Prickett said. This, in addition to wearing a mask and walking away from society, will reduce the risk of contracting both diseases, he said.
But the bottom line is to get vaccinated, experts say. “It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s relatively painless,” Prickett said. “People need to understand that the flu can be quite deadly with pre-existing conditions and the injection can prevent people from getting sick.”
New Hampshire is the country’s second oldest state behind Maine, with a significant and growing population over the age of 65. Even when the vaccine is not an exact match, it will still give your body a significant advantage, said Andrea Harper, an infectious disease prevention specialist at LRGH.
One of the most pernicious complications of the flu, according to recent research, is sudden heart complications. In a study published last month by the CDC, one in eight patients admitted to hospital with the flu developed heart problems, a third of them ended up in intensive care, and 7 percent died.
“You might be okay with the flu,” Harper said, “but not with heart complications in addition.”
The Sunshine Project is underwritten by grants from Endowment for Health, New Hampshire’s largest health foundation, and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Roberta Baker can be reached by e-mail at Roberta@laconiadailysun.com