In the United States, seasonal flu usually occurs during the fall through early spring. Influenza, or the flu, is a serious contagious disease that can be prevented. Every year in Sonoma County, flu leads to hospitalizations and deaths. Data from 2010-2016 of seven flu seasons in the United States show that the average flu season has 708,000 hospitalizations from the flu each year and 12,000-56,000 deaths caused by the flu each year.* In Sonoma County, 51 people died from an influenza infection during the 2017-2019 seasons.
Anyone can get flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years.
A bad flu season could put further strain on our healthcare system, which is still battling COVID-19, through increased healthcare demand. The flu season could also further disrupt our community, including work and schools, as the flu and COVID-19 share many common symptoms, including: fever or feeling feverish/having chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue (tiredness), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, and change in or loss of taste or smell. Individuals with these symptoms should isolate and be tested.
Last year, the flu season was mild, likely due to universal masking, social distancing, and other public health mitigation measures directed against COVID-19. However, the upcoming flu season may be different from last year since some of these public health measures may not be in place. Therefore, public health strongly recommends that all eligible individuals in Sonoma County get the flu vaccine.
The good news is that the flu vaccine is safe and effective in reducing the likelihood of catching the flu, as well as reducing the likelihood of severe disease or hospitalization in someone who is infected. Individuals can further reduce their risk of flu by wearing a medical grade mask in high risk settings and while interacting with other people outside their household, maintaining good hand hygiene, as well as maintaining good daily healthy personal habits, such as good nutrition and physical exercise. All of these measures keep us healthy and keep our community healthy.
It is strongly recommended that all Sonoma County law enforcement, fire, and EMS employees receive the flu vaccine this year. If the flu vaccine is declined, a medical grade mask should be worn while interacting with the community, or while working indoors.
*Rolfes MA, et al. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2018 Jan;12(1):132-7; Reed C, et al. PLoS One. 2015;10(3):e0118369.