Genesee County, MI—Health officials are advising people to get immunized against influenza, or flu, in anticipation of a harsh flu season.
“We are expecting more transmission of all respiratory viruses this year, including influenza,” said Dr. Kaitlin Liroff, an infectious disease physician at Hurley Medical Center. “My main message for the public would be to get vaccinated.”
Experts look towards the Southern Hemisphere, which experiences an earlier flu season, as a predictor of the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere. For this season, Australia and New Zealand have both been hit hard.
“They did see higher rates of flu in the Southern Hemisphere, which is concerning to us because it likely portends higher rates of flu for us this year as well,” Liroff said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the patterns of flu season vary, but flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter with flu activity typically increasing come October in the U.S. The peak of flu infections often occurs in February for the U.S.
During the flu season from 2020 to 2021, flu circulation was historically low in the U.S. and worldwide, the CDC says. While flu activity increased in the 2021-2022 season, the CDC notes that hospitalization and deaths related to flu remained lower than in recent years. Health experts attribute the lulls to be largely and likely due to COVID-19 precautions.
With less exposure to the flu in the past two seasons, Liroff explained that people may have lower immunity against the flu. That, along with the easing of COVID restrictions, makes getting the flu shot all the more important, particularly for people at high risk of developing serious complications from the flu.
The efficacy of the flu vaccine differs from year to year, depending on how well it matches with circulating flu viruses. The bottom line is that the flu vaccine effectively reduces the risk of hospitalization and severe illness from the flu, even in years when the flu vaccine doesn’t match well with circulating flu viruses, Liroff said.
Individuals can check with local pharmacies, their medical provider or the Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) regarding flu vaccination, and older adults can contact their local senior center as well.
On the part of GCHD, the health department offers a flu vaccine to every person with any vaccine appointment while at the Burton clinic. GCHD plans community walk-in/drive-up flu vaccine clinics annually. It also partners with senior centers, schools and businesses in the county for flu vaccination.
If communities see both a surge in flu and COVID cases, Liroff said the healthcare system could get overwhelmed, and she highlighted the importance of getting immunized against both illnesses.
“Trying to predict what’s going to happen is a challenge and the most that we as individuals can do is maximally protect ourselves and protect other people,” Liroff said.
The CDC advises the public to stay up to date with COVID vaccination, and updated COVID boosters have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration since late August. The flu shot can be administered along with a COVID booster or COVID primary series vaccination.
Call the GCHD immunization line at 810-237-4569 for scheduling.