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Experts recommend getting flu shot, COVID booster

As the leaves and the weather begin to turn, flu season is not far behind.

According to experts, this year’s flu season could be a bad one and COVID could spike.

“A number of experts predict we may have a worse flu season this winter,” Warren General Hospital Medical Director Dr. Keith Price said.

He explained the reasoning behind that statement.

“We are no longer wearing masks regularly or socially distancing,” Price said. “These measures in the last two years seemed to help prevent many cases of flu. Because there were many fewer flu infections in the last two years, our immunity to flu is expected to be much lower due to lower antibody levels. Antibodies are the custom-crafted blood proteins that help us fight specific infections, either by receiving a vaccination or having a particular viral infection.”

There is more resistance to the flu vaccine than there was prior to COVID-19.

“Hesitation to get the flu vaccine seems to have increased since COVID vaccine mandates met with fierce resistance in some people,” Price said.

All of those add up to diminished defenses.

“Australia, which just finished its winter season, had a double spike of flu and COVID,” he said. “The U.S. usually follows Australia’s course about six months later.”

“Hospital, physician offices and Walk in Clinic volumes are increasing,” CEO Rick Allen said. “We have had six confirmed cases of the flu to date.”

Price recommends that people get a flu shot.

“The flu vaccine is developed to fight against the most common strains of flu circulating in countries whose infections precede ours – like Australia,” he said.

Flu vaccine clinics for the hospital staff are set up for next week, Allen said.

Although COVID may seem like it’s in the rear-view mirror, it is still killing people in the United States and could rebound in the winter.

“There is a good chance that a surge of COVID cases will also be seen,” Price said. “More time spent indoors in closer proximity and the increased contagion of the omicron variants make a winter spike in cases likely.”

His advice for COVID is the same as for the flu.

“Get the bivalent COVID shot,” he said. “The new bivalent COVID vaccines, developed by both Pfizer and Moderna, help to prevent infections from both the original COVID strain as well as the more recent omicron variants. Local pharmacies have these updated vaccines, though supplies can be variable.”

“Vaccination is our most effective tool in preventing serious illness from these diseases,” he said.

Allen said hospital staff may receive COVID boosters any time and the hospital is watching for mandates.

Those looking for a vaccine can receive both the flu and COVID shots at the same time.

Aside from the vaccines, if the number of infections rise, Price suggests avoiding crowds, wearing a mask when close contacts can’t be avoided, washing hands and cleaning surfaces frequently, and staying home if feeling sick.

One illness that the hospital is less concerned about is monkeypox.

“The monkeypox virus appears to have abated nationally,” Allen said. “Here in Warren County, we have not had any suspected nor confirmed cases of monkeypox.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 754 cases of monkeypox in Pennsylvania.

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