DC region flu cases in ‘minimal’ range — for now

While the spread of the coronavirus prompts local governments to tighten restrictions, health professionals are urging residents to get that flu shot.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows influenza-like-illnesses are in the “minimal” range throughout the region.

But doctors are quick to remind the public that November is very early in the flu season. And the CDC says the peak of flu season typically comes in late January or February.

In Virginia, for example, the state’s Health Department shows no influenza outbreaks were investigated for the week ending Nov. 7. The same goes for Maryland, with no outbreaks reported to its health departments during the same period. And in D.C., hospitals reported three cases.

“Flu activity at the start of the season remains low and steady coming in from the off season,” reads the District Health Department’s online summary.

Nevertheless, Dr. Avni Jain, who practices family medicine with Adventist Medical Group in Germantown, Maryland, has a simple message: “Get your flu vaccine right now, because that is your best defense against influenza.”

Many people may delay or never get a flu shot, believing that the flu is just a cold with more staying power.

“I would urge everyone not to take it lightly, because it can be very serious,” said Jain.

If you got your flu shot last year and figured you’d be protected this year, think again.

“Every year, the CDC does research about the circulating viruses every flu season, and the flu vaccines are made according to that,” Jain said.

And because of the presence of COVID-19 and the ease of community spread, Jain said, “It’s more important to get the flu vaccine this year, because COVID and flu can have many overlapping symptoms.”

While vaccines have been announced for COVID-19, it’s not clear when they will be available to the general public. But the flu vaccine is widely available, with vaccinations offered at a variety of locations — in many cases, offered for no or low-cost.

Who should get a flu shot? Everybody 6 months and older.

“If you are above 65, if you have underlying medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease,” Jain said, “you should definitely get it.”

She adds: “Pregnant women are at high risk of influenza, so definitely get the flu vaccine.”

The best way to defend yourself against the flu, other than getting vaccinated, said Jain, is to “wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home if you are sick.”

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