Getting Vaccinated Can Protect Yourself and Our Community this Flu Season
October 24, 2023
By Ronald Hall, RN, Chief Nursing Officer at Starr Regional Medical Center
Autumn marks the beginning of many seasonal things – including football, cooler weather and bonfires. Unfortunately, it is also the start of flu season, which typically peaks between December and February but can last as late as May. It often results in millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths. This 2023 - 2024 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expecting flu viruses to circulate, along with variants of COVID-19. This makes minimizing our risk, protecting our health and protecting the health of those around us more important than ever. Getting vaccinated for the flu is a simple, yet vitally important way to do just that.
Although everyone is susceptible to the flu, some individuals are at greater risk of developing complications from these viruses, including children younger than five years old, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and those with certain medical conditions like asthma, heart disease and blood disorders. At Starr Regional Medical Center, one of the essential ways we’re making communities healthier is making sure that you know the key ways you can protect yourself, your family and our community from preventable diseases like the flu and even speed up your recovery if you do become ill.
The first and most important step is to get vaccinated. This is undoubtedly the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu virus. While it is still possible to contract the flu after being vaccinated, it is much less likely, and studies show that vaccinations can make your illness less severe if you do get sick. Getting vaccinated also affords you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you’re doing everything you can to protect yourself against the flu.
The CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older, with any age-appropriate flu vaccine. If you are considering a nasal spray flu vaccine, it is important to know that this option is approved by the CDC for use in non-pregnant individuals, ages two through 49, and that there is a precaution against this option for those with certain underlying medical conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider regarding which flu vaccination method works best for you.
To get your flu vaccine, you can visit the McMinn County Health Department, a walk-in clinic or pharmacy, or your provider’s office. If you don’t have a primary care provider, visit our website and browse our Find a Provider tab at StarrRegional.com or call 423.374.6571. You should plan to receive your flu vaccine before flu activity begins in your area. Like COVID-19 vaccines, flu vaccines can take approximately two weeks to become fully effective, so a good rule of thumb is to get vaccinated no later than the end of October. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, now is the time.
And while we’re on the subject of vaccines, it’s a good time to ensure that you’re up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations as well – including the updated bivalent booster that is intended to target the original COVID-19 virus and the most recent Omicron variants. Fortunately, you can receive both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines on the same day, to save yourself time. Being vaccinated against both viruses is your best defense against becoming infected this fall and winter.
In addition to getting vaccinated, there are numerous other ways you can protect yourself and your family, and help prevent the spread of flu and other infections like COVID-19 during flu season and year-round, including:
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol-based
- Wearing a face mask in indoor, public spaces
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Avoiding sharing food, cups or eating utensils
- Regularly disinfecting your home and belongings, such as doorknobs, light switches, children’s toys and play areas
- Staying home from school or work if you are sick to prevent the spread of germs
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue, your sleeve or elbow, and NOT your bare hands
- Calling your primary care provider with any questions
Starr Regional Medical Center is also taking the appropriate steps at our facility to prevent the flu from spreading by:
- Maintaining stations stocked with alcohol-based sanitizers, tissues and hands-free trash cans throughout our facilities
- Continuing stringent cleaning and disinfection protocols
- Encouraging all patients, staff and visitors to get their flu vaccinations and COVID-19 vaccinations/boosters
Many of the most common symptoms of flu are consistent with COVID-19, so testing may be necessary to help confirm a diagnosis. See your healthcare provider right away if you or someone you know experiences symptoms including coughing, sore throat, fever or other upper respiratory symptoms. When detected early, prescription antiviral drugs can often help treat the illness and shorten the time you are sick by one or two days. Early detection is especially important for young children, elderly populations, pregnant women and people with certain chronic health issues like asthma, diabetes, heart and lung disease and more.
If you do test positive for the flu, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to seek medical care. If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to self-isolate for a longer period of time.
If you have any questions or concerns about this year’s flu season, Starr Regional Medical Center can help. Simply call 423.745.1411. For additional information about the 2023 - 2024 flu season, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/flu or contact the McMinn County Health Department at 423.745.7431.