Flu season around the corner and COVID-19 still a threat: How to steer clear of sickness

Flu shots are now available at the nearly 10,000 CVS Health pharmacies and more than 1,100 CVS MinuteClinic locations across the country.

Flu season will once again add on a layer of caution to people's lives this year as the Delta variant of COVID-19 persists. During 2020 and 2021, America managed to avoid a high number of flu cases, but public health experts aren't certain that the trend will continue this year. 

How will this year differ from last flu season now that the vaccines are available, and what can West Virginians do to protect themselves against it?

Here's what to know about staying safe and informed about the upcoming flu season.

A look back on last year

During the winter of 2020-2021, the flu was almost nonexistent, showing a dramatic drop in cases from before the pandemic. While 2019 demonstrated widespread cases of the flu, data for West Virginia published in February 2021 indicated that the numbers landed the state in the "low" activity category of cases, the second-lowest grade it could possibly be. 

The Centers for Disease Control has stated that wearing masks and physical distancing can help protect people from respiratory diseases other than COVID-19, like catching the flu. It recommends people take precautions to protect themselves from various illnesses.

During the winter of 2020, many states and cities were under emergency ordinances or lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This time around, looser health guidelines could indicate that the flu and COVID-19 may spread at the same time. 

"While it’s not possible to say with certainty what will happen in the fall and winter, CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading at that time," the CDC said in a report on the similarities and differences of the two diseases. "Relaxed COVID-19 mitigation measures may result in an increase in flu activity during the upcoming 2021–2022 flu season."

There is one new factor for this year that citizens didn't experience the winter prior the COVID-19 vaccine. How does it impact if, and when, you should get vaccinated for the flu?

When to get which shots

The CDC also states that it's safe for people to get their COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time during their visit, based on the recommendation from its Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices.

"If a patient is due for both vaccines, providers are encouraged to offer both vaccines at the same visit," the CDC said. "It is also an important part of immunization practice if a health care provider is uncertain that a patient will return for additional doses of vaccine."

More:Staunton Schools will not require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for staff

The recommended time to get the flu vaccine is between September and October, the CDC said and is recommended for everyone six months or older. 

Twindemic

Health experts anticipate that the reduced population immunity to the flu considering the lack of the sickness last year could result in an early and potentially severe flu season this year.  

The possible surge in the flu combined with the Delta variant across the United States could make for a concerning mix of diseases, which some health experts are calling a "twindemic." 

"While flu activity may be low in your community now, it could begin increasing at any time. Remember, after you are vaccinated, your body takes about two weeks to develop antibodies that protect against flu. Ideally, you should get vaccinated against flu by the end of October," the CDC stated.

For more information about the relationship between the flu and COVID-19, visit the CDC website.

Where does West Virginia stand now?

The latest week tracked by the CDC for West Virginia Influenza rates was Sept. 11. Currently, West Virginia is classified as having a minimal activity level of flu cases.

During this week last year, the activity level was also at minimal, the lowest it could be, indicating that there are about the same flu cases this year as this time last year. 

As of Sept. 21, West  has reported 225,772 COVID-19 cases and 3,441 deaths from COVID-19. The state saw a constant growth in case numbers from July to mid-September, with active cases tapering off slightly as of Sept. 20. 

The CDC encourages residents to get both their flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines to ensure they are prepared for the fall and winter months when the state could see an uptick in both illnesses. 

For more information, visit dhhr.wv.gov.

— Alison Cutler (she/her) is the Government Watchdog Reporter at The News Leader.  Contact Alison at acutler@newsleader.com and follow her on Twitter at @alisonjc2. 

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia.You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.