Fewer Restrictions Resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic May Mean Heightened Exposure to Flu
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – After nearly three years of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic stifled flu cases across the nation, University of Tennessee Extension health experts are warning Tennesseans that this year may be different.
“Flu season is expected to be more severe this year as we are already seeing cases of other respiratory viruses on the rise,” says Soghra Jarvandi, a UT Extension community health specialist and associate professor. “As more and more COVID-19 pandemic precautions are relaxed, such as masking and limiting indoor gatherings, more and more people will come in contact with the flu virus.”
Jarvandi adds that fewer people both got sick with the flu and were hospitalized with severe illness during the last few years as a result of the precautions and lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. These precautions decreased the number of people getting sick with COVID-19 but also lowered risk of exposure for other respiratory diseases, like flu or RSV.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 32 million Americans got sick with the flu from 2012-2020, including an average of 36,000 deaths from severe illness each year.
While anyone can become infected with the flu virus, some populations are at a higher risk of complications. Children younger than 5 years old, adults 65 and over, adults with chronic conditions, pregnant women, people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS, and people who have cancer are all at an elevated risk of severe illness.
Year after year, one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and others from flu is to get a flu vaccine at a nearby pharmacy. “Anyone six months of age or older should get an annual flu vaccine, with rare exception. Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk for serious complications from the flu,” adds Jarvandi.
Other steps of flu prevention include wearing a mask or isolating while you’re sick, washing your hands frequently, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, adequate nightly sleep, and regular exercise.
More information about seasonal flu is available in the UT Extension publication “FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SEASONAL FLU D 182.” Visit utextension.tennessee.edu and click on the publications tab to search.
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