If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to get a shot — a flu shot.
With hospitals straining at capacity with the surge in COVID-19 cases, health care providers are warning that this year’s influenza season will be “more active” than usual.
Flu-like illness not associated with COVID-19 reached its highest of four “severity ratings” in the week before Christmas, the state Department of Public Health reported this week. That’s much earlier than in past years, and a possible sign of a tougher-than-average flu season.
Massachusetts hospitals that monitor the flu for the state note that 3.38% of visits they saw in the week ending Christmas Day were for influenza-like illness, well above the 2% baseline of a typical year. The DPH defines influenza-like illness as a fever of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, in addition to a cough and/or a sore throat.
The uptick in Massachusetts is mirrored across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most influenza infections have occurred among children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 24 years old, the CDC said. But the “proportion of infections occurring among adults age 25 years and older has been increasing.”
Hospitalizations are also on the rise, the agency said, a troubling trend as health care providers struggle with the omicron-fueled COVID-19 surge. Two Massachusetts children have died from influenza already this year.
Childhood deaths are “unfortunately what we would expect when flu activity picks up,” said Lynnette Brammer, who tracks flu-like illnesses for the CDC. “It’s a sad reminder of how severe flu can be.”
It is also, Brammer said, a reminder of the importance of the flu vaccine.
Fortunately, it’s not too late to get a shot. You can find a local site by visiting https://www.mass.gov/alerts/find-a-flu-andor-covid-19-vaccine-location.
“Cover your cough. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick,” Brammer said.
Good advice all around as we head into 2022.