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Will Alabama repeat last year’s ‘mild’ flu season?

Published: Sep. 12, 2021 at 4:02 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama had a “mild” flu season last year, according to Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health. She said this is a side effect of mask-wearing and social distancing implemented for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent studies show this season could be more severe.

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health held two studies in an aim of predicting hospitalizations this flu season. Researchers estimate a possible 600,000 hospitalizations this year.

For comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found over 200,000 flu hospitalizations a year in a 2004 study. From 2019-2020, the CDC estimated 400,000 flu-related hospitalizations.

Landers said Alabamians can certainly influence this year’s flu season by following protocol that may feel familiar.

“We can have impact on this year’s flu season by people availing themselves of the vaccine, as well as following mitigations such as wearing mask,” Landers said. “We really can control our influenza season as well as get a handle on our COVID season, if we will just vaccinate.”

Landers said more people were vaccinated against the flu last year, a trend she would like to see continue. She stresses that the spread of both the flu and COVID-19 are “preventable” if Alabamians roll up their sleeves.

“We’re really now talking about vaccine-preventable diseases and influenza is a vaccine-preventable disease,” she said.

In fact, Landers said the COVID-19 vaccine is more effective than the flu vaccine, a shot many people are more familiar with. Still, she said it is reliable and can greatly shape the health of communities.

“It’s still certainly helpful to be vaccinated,” she said.

Those 6 months old and up qualify for a flu shot. The CDC reports the nasal spray vaccine can be given to those 2-49 years of age, however some people with “underlying medical conditions” should opt out of receiving the spray.

Landers said it is safe for the public to receive both the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine.

“I tell people go ahead and take it,” the doctor said. “You know, traditionally, we’ve spoken of taking flu vaccine toward the end of September, first of October, before we know it, we’re going to be there. But if your provider already has flu vaccine, go ahead and take it.”

ADPH also encourages the public to follow basic mitigation standards for respiratory viruses.

“That is good hand-washing, social distancing and also the use of a mask, again, to reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets,” Landers said on the safety guidelines that helped keep more people protected from the flu last season.

“That interfered with our flu season last year and made us have a lot better flu season, and we can do the same thing again,” she added.

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