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As flu cases start to pop up in Wyoming, health officials stress importance of vaccines

"I took a few minutes to get my flu shot this morning," Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said on Oct. 8, 2020. (Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Facebook)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Department of Health said on Tuesday, October 12 that it has started to receive some sporadic reports of influenza cases across Wyoming.

The WDH said that despite an “unusually quiet 2020-21 flu season,” influenza vaccines remain an important means of protecting residents against the flu.

“Reported flu activity was unusually low over the past flu season,” State Health Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Alexia Harrist said in the WDH release. “Looking back, it appears the precautions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 also likely reduced the impact of influenza significantly.”

“People were not traveling as much, they weren’t socializing as frequently, they were often wearing masks and they were taking extra care with measures such as handwashing and cleaning.”

Harrist said that the health department expects that flu will circulate as the new flu season begins and as COVID-19 continues to circulate.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to put a strain on our healthcare system,” Harrist said. “While we are unable to predict how much flu we’ll see in Wyoming this season, we are concerned about the combined impact of both influenza and COVID-19 on our hospitals and on our state’s residents.”

Harrist described flu shots as “the first and most important step in influenza protection.” She stressed that the flu vaccines are safe and help reduce illness, hospitalization and death.

“Everyone six months of age and older should receive a flu shot,” Harrist said.

The WDH said that influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can include the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Muscle or body aches

The WDH said that most people recover from the flu but that people who contract it can spread it to those who are at high risk of serious complications.

“Both flu and COVID-19 can result in serious illness and that’s one reason testing is helpful,” Harrist said. “Testing can help guide treatment and care.”

Harrist added that it is considered safe for people getting COVID-19 vaccines, including booster shots, to get them at the same time they get a flu shot.

“Flu vaccines are especially important for those vulnerable populations such as young children; pregnant women; people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease; and people 65 years and older,” the WDH said. “Healthcare workers and people who may live with, care for, or are in contact with high-risk individuals or infants six months of age and under should also get the flu vaccine.”

It takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection, according to Harrist.

“The best strategy is to get your flu shot before people around you are ill,” she said.

Flu vaccines are available at a variety of locations in Wyoming, including local public health offices. Other options include doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores and some workplaces. The WDH said that in most cases, flu vaccines are covered by insurance plans.

“In addition, Wyoming’s public vaccine programs, which are available at participating providers, help protect some adults and children from vaccine-preventable diseases, such as influenza, at little to no cost for eligible patients,” the WDH added.

The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.