SHERIDAN — Following an unusually quiet 2020-21 flu season, a Wyoming Department of Health official says the need for flu shots remains important to help protect Wyoming residents from influenza as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“As the next flu season begins, we know flu shots remain the first and most important step in influenza protection,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH. “Flu vaccines are safe and reduce illness, hospitalizations and deaths. Everyone six months of age and older should receive a flu shot.”

The department has started to receive sporadic reports of flu from across Wyoming in recent weeks.

“Reported flu activity was unusually low over the past flu season. Looking back, it appears the precautions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 also likely reduced the impact of influenza significantly,” Harrist said. “People were not traveling as much, they weren’t socializing as frequently, they were often wearing masks and they were taking extra care with measures such as handwashing and cleaning.”

“As we begin a new flu season, we expect influenza will circulate while COVID-19 remains a threat,” Harrist said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to put a strain on our health care system. While we are unable to predict how much flu we’ll see in Wyoming this season, we are concerned about the combined impact of both influenza and COVID-19 on our hospitals and on our state’s residents.”

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. Symptoms, which come on suddenly, include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, extreme tiredness and muscle or body aches.

Although most healthy people recover from the flu, they can spread the virus to those who are at high risk for serious complications.

“Both flu and COVID-19 can result in serious illness and that’s one reason testing is helpful. Testing can help guide treatment and care,” she said.

Many testing options, including tests run through the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory, can detect influenza or COVID-19 from the same sample.

Harrist noted that it is considered safe for people who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, including recently authorized booster doses, to receive them as the same time they receive a flu shot.

Health officials say flu vaccines are especially important for those vulnerable populations such as young children; pregnant women; people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease; and people 65 years and older. Health care workers and people who may live with, care for or are in contact with high risk individuals or infants 6 months of age and younger, should also get the flu vaccine. Harrist explained it takes about two weeks after receiving the vaccine for it to offer protection.

“The best strategy is to get your flu shot before people around you are ill,” she said.

Influenza vaccines are available in many locations, including local public health nursing offices, workplaces, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and retail stores and are covered by most insurance plans. In addition, Wyoming’s public vaccine programs, which are available at participating providers, help protect some adults and children from vaccine-preventable diseases, such as influenza, at little to no cost for eligible patients.

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