Area residents are already on alert for everything to know and do about the COVID-19 virus; and Pam Burton, RN, infection prevention specialist at Peterson Health, now has plans and recommendations about influenza, the “Flu season,” to add to her work.
Peterson hospital officials have plans in place to track numbers of influenza cases; and patients and visitors will continue to see staff wearing face masks as they work, not only for COVID but also for the annual flu season.
Burton at Peterson Regional Medical Center tracks the numbers of influenza cases confirmed in the hospital facilities, including the PRMC Emergency Room and the Peterson Urgent Care Clinic.
First on Burton’s list is setting appointments with all PRMC departments and offices to give flu shots to all employees possible. Also, hospital employees’ badges will be labeled to say if each person got a flu shot.
“The vaccination rate for the hospital staff was at 94 percent last winter,” Burton said.
Burton herself was one of the first in line last week, getting her annual flu shot administered by a fellow nurse.
At the hospital, there will be flyers about the flu posted near all the doors.
Last year those flyers said, “New Visitation Policy/Flu Season. STOP if you are sick, under the age of 16, exhibiting flu-like symptoms (example: nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever or chills, body aches, fatigue).”
The problem with that wording this year is that they are having to warn people about both COVID symptoms and flu symptoms; and people could get confused.
But the prevention tips for protecting yourself against flu remain the same.
Burton offers these tips to help protect against the flu:
• Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol hand sanitizer;
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue; or cough or sneeze into a sleeve;
• Avoid crowded areas if possible;
• Stay home if you are sick.
Flu season typically runs October through May, usually reaching its peak in Texas in January and February.
People should get their flu shots early, according to Burton and state officials. Don’t wait for cold weather to occur.
One early flu shot clinic has already been held in Kerrville, “drive-through” style at the Hill Country Youth Event Center, a partnership between the HEB Pharmacy and PRMC.
One CDC release recommends getting flu shots by the end of October.
Burton said doctors’ offices in the Kerrville area should already have received their supplies of flu vaccines.
For 2020-21, there are two options for vaccinations this season. They include injectable flu vaccines or flu shots; and the live attenuated influenza vaccines or nasal spray.
Area residents should contact their physicians’ offices to ask about flu vaccines, as soon as they can, especially people who live with, or take care of, those who are at high risk of having serious flu complications.
Flu vaccinations generally take about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.
Those groups at high risk include children ages six months through 18 years; people age 50 and older, those with chronic health conditions, residents of long-term-care facilities, and pregnant women.
Because flu viruses change, a new vaccine is designated through the national Centers for Disease Control, and produced every year.
Flu shots do not contain live viruses and cannot cause the flu.
Burton’s sources say efforts to reduce transmission of COVID-19, such as stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, have led to decreased use of routine preventive medical services, including immunization services.
Ensuring that routine vaccination is maintained or re-initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential for protecting individuals and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks. Routine vaccination prevents illnesses that lead to unnecessary medical visits, hospitalizations and further strain on the healthcare system.
For the upcoming influenza season, flu vaccination will be paramount to reduce the impact of respiratory illnesses, in general, in the population, and resulting burdens on the heathcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Communicating the importance of vaccination to patients and parents/caregivers as well as the safety protocols and procedures can help provide reassurance to those who may otherwise be hesitant to go for vaccination visits.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the burden of respiratory illnesses is important to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illnesses, the healthcare system, and other critical infrastructure.
The Centers for Disease Control has said, for this year, routine vaccination should be deferred for persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, regardless of symptoms, until criteria have been met for those persons to discontinue isolation.
Using Australia as a comparison
One added piece of information through Burton’s office shows a comparison that Americans may not have considered.
From the www.healthline.com website, Burton shared a story headed “Why Australia had a mild flu season and what that means for the United States.”
The top “bullet points” start with:
• Authorities report that Australia had a mild flu season this year due to an unprecedented number of people getting vaccinated;
• They said the low number of flu cases has helped the healthcare system to continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic;
• Experts say the United States needs to follow Australia’s example on vaccinations.
This comparison is possible because Australia’s seasons are “backwards” (in the Southern Hemisphere) from the United States. U.S. medical experts and organizations can track the Australians’ statistics from their recent fall and winter (April to October with the peak usually in August).
For more local information, contact Burton at 258-7448 or email her at pburton@petersonhealth. com.