By Yoon Young (Nicole) Chang Boston University News Service
BOSTON – Public health officials in Massachusetts are urging residents to get their flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines, amid a recent uptick in pediatric hospital admissions.
Higher flu activity compared to previous years is expected this winter based on the tough flu season that the southern hemisphere just experienced, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Health officials are keeping their eye on how the simultaneous circulation of both COVID-19 and the flu will affect the healthcare system.
“It is difficult to say for certain what we can expect from this year’s flu season,” said Jonathan Latino, the media relations manager at the Boston Public Health Commission. “The concern is the strain that the combination of an influx of severe COVID-19 cases and flu cases could have on Boston’s health care system.”
The Massachusetts public health department determined that the “estimated weekly severity of influenza” had remained “low” in the week of Oct. 2, according to the Public Health Department weekly influenza update. However, influenza-like illness visits in Massachusetts have recorded 1.56%, which is higher than in the same week of the last three years, according to the health department.
The public health department began to release weekly flu reports Oct. 14, as the statewide surveillance reporting of the 2022-2023 flu season started in the first week of October. The weekly report containing the percentages of influenza-like illness activity, influenza-associated hospitalizations and other relevant data will be updated every Friday.
October is an optimal time for flu shots before the flu season reaches its climax in the winter, said the public health department press release. As flu vaccines are highly effective in lowering the chance of getting infected and preventing severe symptoms, according to the BPHC statement, they are especially important for people who are 65 and older, are pregnant, are younger than five and have chronic medical conditions.
“It’s important that everybody over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine annually, and even more so this year because the lack of infection over the past couple of flu seasons likely means there is less immunity to flu than in prior years,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the public health department’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, in the press release.
Since symptoms of flu and COVID-19 may be similar, people with flu-like symptoms – fever, cough and sore throat – should get tested for both flu and COVID-19, said the public health department press release. Staying home when sick, covering coughs and keeping hands clean can be helpful to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.
“Both flu and COVID-19 vaccines will be essential for keeping yourself, as well as those closest to you, safe this winter,” the BPHC press release said.
Flu vaccines are available in vaccination clinics at the City Hall, local pharmacies, community health centers and clinics sponsored by one of Boston’s hospitals, the BPHC statement wrote. Boston University students have an additional option to get a flu shot on campus at flu clinics after making an appointment on Patient Connect, beginning Oct. 18.