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Don’t forget your flu shot

We’ve seen the first of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations being distributed this week as the national roll-out began Monday with higher risk Americans on top of the list. Yet everyone is still prone to getting the “regular” flu this winter, and we urge people to get their flu shots as soon as possible.

COVID-19 and the seasonal influenza are two different diseases. The regular flu can be deadly — though not nearly so much as COVID.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait to get protection against the flu. Immunization shots to guard against it are widely available, and most insurance plans pay for flu shots.

Influenza activity in the U.S. last year began to increase in November and was consistently high through January and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While COVID-19 has killed more than 300,000 Americans over the past year, the flu is still serious. Just look at the numbers.

During the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC estimates that influenza was associated with 38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths. That compares to 35.5 million illnesses, more than 16.5 million medical visits, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths during the previous year.

If you are only looking at the flu-related deaths, it’s good news; they declined from 34,000 to 22,000. CDC officials say the flu activity began to decline in March, “perhaps associated with community prevention measures for COVID-19.” But there’s an alarming statistic in the CDC numbers.

“The burden of influenza and the rates of influenza-associated hospitalization are usually higher for the very young and the very old,” the CDC reported, “and while this was observed during the 2019-2020 season, rates of hospitalization in adults aged 18-49 years were the highest seasonal rates seen since the 2017-2018 season.”

Last year’s flu season was “atypical,” the CDC said, in that it was severe for children aged 0-4 years and adults 18-49 years.

In fact, there were an estimated 15 million cases of influenza in Americans aged 18-49 years last winter. Never mind comparing it to the 2017-2018 season. That’s the highest number of infections for this age group since CDC began reporting influenza burden estimates in the 2010-11 season.

Last year, older adults accounted for 62% of all influenza deaths in the U.S. That’s lower than recent previous seasons. And about 7,800 deaths — 36% — occurred among working age adults (aged 18-64 years). That’s an age group the CDC says the flu vaccine coverage is often low.

You’ve seen the signs at your local pharmacy, and your doctor may have asked if you’d like a flu shot. Please don’t ignore them. Do your bit to keep everyone healthy. Get your flu shot today.

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