RALEIGH — Health officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are urging North Carolina residents to protect themselves, their families and those around them by getting vaccinated against influenza as the state enters flu season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, with COVID-19 still spreading in our communities, it’s critically important to get your flu vaccine,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “Flu can be a serious, sometimes deadly, disease. It is important to get vaccinated against the flu to keep you and your family healthy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination against the flu for everyone 6 months and older with any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine. Vaccination against the flu can make illness milder and reduce the risk of more serious outcomes, making it especially important for those at higher risk of complications, such as people over 65, children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or obesity. Some of those same groups are also at high risk of complications from COVID-19.
“This flu season, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu. We will have both the flu and COVID-19 widely circulating this fall and winter, and we are learning that people can get both infections at the same time,” said State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson. “We want people to protect themselves from the flu and also avoid overwhelming our hospitals so people can get care if they need it.”
Flu vaccinations are available at hospitals, pharmacies, private medical offices, some federally qualified health care centers and local health departments. Visit vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine to find locations.
In North Carolina, flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring with activity usually peaking in January or February. The following precautions should be taken to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses like COVID-19:
• Stay home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours, except for COVID-19. Follow CDC guidance for end of isolation for COVID-19.
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly.
• Continue to practice the 3Ws — wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth, waiting 6 feet apart and washing your hands often can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and flu.
COVID-19 and flu symptoms are similar, so individuals who feel ill should call ahead before going to a doctor’s office, local health department or urgent care. They should consult with a doctor about getting tested for flu and/or COVID-19.
Flu symptoms include:
• Cough and/or sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Headaches and/or body aches
• Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children)
Anyone who thinks they have the flu should contact their doctor right away to see if they need treatment with a prescription antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu. Early treatment with an antiviral drug can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious. Treatment with a prescription antiviral drug is especially important for hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.
Weekly updates on flu surveillance data are posted online at flu.ncdhhs.gov. The flu report will be posted every Thursday beginning Oct. 8 throughout the flu season with updated data from around the state on flu activity and other viral respiratory illnesses.