The flu season appears to be starting about two weeks early compared to last year, Tim Hendrix, MD, senior medical director of AdventHealth Centra Care, said during a recent news conference. Positive influenza tests increased 61% at Centra Care locations in Central Florida last week, according to Dr. Hendrix.
Dr. Hendrix urges all those who can to get a flu shot as soon as possible, as it takes one to two weeks for it to become effective.
The flu “season” is referred to as such because respiratory illnesses like influenza and the common cold transmit better in the winter when people tend to stay indoors and are clustered together, causing higher infection rates, according to Dr. Hendrix.
“The thing to remember about the flu vaccine is it is either a killed virus or an inactive virus,” Dr. Hendrix said. “There is no way to get the flu from getting the vaccine. You might feel achy, but that means the vaccine is doing its job, helping your immune system create antibodies.”
Along with the flu shot, Dr. Hendrix recommends getting vaccine boosters for COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control research indicates that it is safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time.
“It’s difficult to differentiate symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 because respiratory viruses have the same symptoms,” Dr. Hendrix said. “The best thing to do when you’re sick is to get tested. Most current cases are the flu and not COVID-19.”
The easing of COVID restrictions may also be contributing to the uptick in flu cases along with other upper respiratory illnesses, Dr. Hendrix said. Since people aren’t wearing masks as frequently, the rate of transmission of these viruses is higher. He also noted that since people have worn masks more consistently over the past two years, our immune systems haven’t been exposed to the new variants of the flu, allowing people to contract it easier.
There are several effective ways for families to stay protected during flu season. The No. 1 way is to get a flu shot. Hand washing and other basic hygiene precautions are strongly recommended. Face masks are still very effective in preventing contracting viruses, Dr. Hendrix said.
Flu shots are widely available at physician offices and pharmacies.