Flu season underway as COVID-19 cases surge in Pennsylvania

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Flu season is heating up amid a global pandemic, experts speak about who may be most at risk for flu complications

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Flu season is underway just as COVID-19 cases have been surging in Pennsylvania in recent weeks, causing a concern of triggering a “twindemic”.

Health experts are now asking everyone to make sure they get their flu shots.

“Less than 50 percent of eligible Americans actually get their flu vaccine and so that’s the disturbing news,” Allergy and Immunology Specialist Payel Gupta, MD told Eyewitness News.

Pennsylvania does better than that. Since the 2017-2018 flu season, the Commonwealth ranks 12th with 52.1 percent of Pennsylvanians getting the vaccine. Still, that’s nearly one out of every two people who don’t. The consequences of not getting the flu vaccine can be serious.

“Those that are 50 years old and older with chronic illnesses like heart and lung disease and diabetes are more likely to fare worse with the flu and require hospitalization,” Dr. Gupta said.

During the 2020-2021 season so far, there have been 426 lab-confirmed cases of the flu, 11 of which have resulted in hospitalization and 1 of which ended in death, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The person who died was between the ages of 50 and 64.

“People that are older really need to pay attention and get the flu shot this year because they’re also the population that seem to do worse with COVID-19,” Dr. Gupta said.

Flu activity is currently low across the state but both COVID-19 and the flu are serious respiratory illnesses. Getting infected with both at the same time could have dire consequences. While we await a COVID-19 vaccine, we know there is one for the flu.

“Getting the flu vaccine can reduce hospitalizations. It can reduce the severity of the illness and so ultimately it’s just the best protection that we have to protect out healthcare workers, to protect our overall healthcare system,” Dr. Gupta said.

Since flu activity in Pennsylvania is currently low, now is the time to get that vaccine for anyone six months and older. Remember, it takes about two weeks after you are vaccinated for antibodies to develop and begin protecting you from infection.

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