The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) has launched a statewide multimedia campaign, “Fight the Flu,” to encourage Marylanders to get flu shots as soon as possible — especially as COVID-19 continues to rage.
“Getting vaccinated for the flu every year is important, but this year it’s critical,” said Maryland Health Secretary Robert R. Neall in a statement. “Make sure you make time to get your flu shot — it’s a simple, safe and effective way to help protect yourself, your loved ones and the most vulnerable in your community from the flu.”
Although most influenza cases are relatively mild, influenza can pose a serious risk for children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65 years, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems. During last flu season, Maryland health care providers reported almost 4,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 82 influenza-associated deaths, including six deaths of individuals younger than 18.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses, such as flu, is more important than ever this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts are concerned that the confluence of COVID-19 and flu could cause hospitals, essential workers and other resources to be overwhelmed.
“Though we do not yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, the flu vaccine is widely available,” said MDH Acting Deputy Secretary of Public Health Dr. Jinlene Chan.
The influenza virus spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing, as well as through contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces and objects. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing and sore throat and usually begin one to four days after being exposed. Some symptoms of cold, flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference without diagnostic testing.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, but it is especially important for individuals who are at high risk for influenza-related complications, including:
Children 6 months through 5 years old;
People over 50 years old;
Adults and children who have chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders;
People who are immunocompromised;
Women who are or will become pregnant during the flu season;
Children and adolescents who are receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications and who might be at risk for Reye’s syndrome after influenza virus infection;
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
People who are extremely obese (body mass index more than 40 for adults).
The state’s “Fight the Flu” campaign will run through fall and winter and includes television advertisements, digital and social media outreach, and educational materials for at-risk groups.
To see a list of free public flu shot clinics, visit marylandvax.org.
To learn more about flu and flu surveillance in Maryland, visit health.maryland.gov/flu.