Flu Season approaches as COVID-19 numbers decline

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — It’s been almost four years since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world on its head. As COVID-19 numbers decline, mask mandates are lifted, and restrictions are eased, experts warn that the public need to keep their guard up as flu-season approaches.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the 2021-2022 flu-season was relatively mild. In the first week of January 2022, Ohio had just under 100 hospitalizations due to the influenza virus, compared to an average of just over 600 hospitalizations in 2015 through 2020. While the flu may have taken a back seat during the COVID-19 pandemic, over the last few years, this flu season could be a different story.

James Gaskell, Athens County Health Commissioner, said Athens County only had nine people hospitalized with influenza last year, but he fears the decrease in masking and social distancing could lead to a more volatile flu-season than in recent years.

“Last year, and the last couple of years, we haven’t had a lot of influenza, mainly because we were masking and distancing, but that’s disappearing now,” he said. “If you mask up, and you haven’t had influenza at all, if you haven’t been exposed to the virus at all, you’ll have a society that has less immunity.”

The biggest way the Athens County Health Department is preparing for this years flu season is by ordering flu vaccine and scheduling vaccine clinics in an attempt to increase immunity.

“We have a drive through clinic at the fairgrounds,” Gaskell said. “People get their flu shot and drive off. Last year we gave about 400 doses of flu vaccine. This year, it was closer to about 150.”

In addition to the drive, the health department is administering vaccines daily, as well as at the invitation of various organizations.

“By in large we give influenza vaccine all day every day, and then some organizations come by and deliver influenza vaccine to groups of perhaps 20 to 30 people,” Gaskell said. “We will be going to Athens High School to give vaccinations to their staff.”

The best way people can protect themselves, and others, is to get their flu shot.

In a typical influenza season in the United States 30 to 60 thousand people die from influenza, Gaskell said.

“They often don’t die directly from influenza,” he said. “They die several weeks later from the sequelae of influenza. If they have the influenza vaccine, they might get influenza, but they don’t die because their influenza is not as severe.”

For more information about the flu vaccine, visit the Athens County Health Department Website, or the CDC’s website. Those looking to schedule an appointment for their flu shot can call the Athens County Health Department at (740) 592-4431.