Health officials stress flu shots to avoid overwhelming hospitals

Students+line+up+on+the+Main+Quad+to+get+flu+shots+at+McKinley+Health+Center%E2%80%99s+Flu+Shot+Clinic+on+Oct.+1%2C+2018.+Health+officials+encourage+flu+shots+to+avoid+overwhelming+hospitals+this+winter.

The Daily Illini File Photo

Students line up on the Main Quad to get flu shots at McKinley Health Center’s Flu Shot Clinic on Oct. 1, 2018. Health officials encourage flu shots to avoid overwhelming hospitals this winter.

By Amrita Bhattacharyya, Staff Writer

As flu season approaches, Champaign-Urbana health officials are urging community members to get their flu shots this year, especially with COVID-19 in tow. 

Although health officials encourage people to get vaccinated every year, this flu season is especially important because of the pandemic, said Julie Pryde, administrator at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. 

“In winter, it’s cold and flu season,” Pryde said. “This year, it’s going to be cold and flu and COVID season.”  

During flu season, health officials are expecting an increased number of patients who present with respiratory symptoms, said Christopher Brooke, professor in LAS.

This is a problem because influenza and COVD-19 are both respiratory illnesses that present similar symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue and sore throat, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“Every year we have hospitalization in this community related to flu and the pneumonia that often accompanies flu, so we don’t want to overwhelm our healthcare system,” Pryde said. 

As of Saturday, four Champaign County residents are hospitalized for COVID-19. According to Pryde, the hospitals in Champaign County serve about 1.5 million people, with a “catchment area” that extends outside the county. 

“We don’t only need people in our community to get flu shots, we need them all around us to get them as well,” Pryde said. 

Brooke said it’s still unclear if contracting the flu makes a patient more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 as well. 

“When it’s summer here, it’s flu season in the southern hemisphere,” Brooke said. “Oddly enough, this year there basically were hardly any influenza infections, and this is almost certainly because of all the extra measures that have been put in place to control the coronavirus — they also control flu as well.”

There is not enough data about what happened to the people who were coinfected with the flu and COVID-19, he added. 

In general, “any time you get any type of respiratory illness, you can get like a secondary bacterial pneumonia,” Pryde said. 

Pryde recommends people get their flu shots at least two weeks before the flu starts circulating in the community because it takes time to build immunity. As this is hard to anticipate, Pryde said the months of October and November are the “standard” time to get it. 

Since Sept. 15, University students who have paid the Health Service Fee can get flu shots for free at multiple McKinley Health Center outreach locations on campus.

This week, flu shots will be available Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Activities and Recreation Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

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