HIGH COUNTRY — While remote areas such as those in the High Country wait to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, there is still an important step one can take to keep themselves healthy, and that is to get a flu shot.
So far, public health officials have experienced a relatively mild flu season. However, cases of the flu tend to peak in the month of January or February. In order to prevent additional strain on the local health system which is currently experiencing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, health officials have been out in the community vaccinating the public for the flu.
Avery County Health Department Public Health Nursing Supervisor Deborah Gragg said that health officials have remained vigilant about preventing the spread of Covid while simultaneously protecting them from the flu, a common disease that can also cause serious health complications in the elderly.
“We are asking people to call ahead for an appointment. We are trying to keep as few as possible in the building at the same time. If it’s someone that has problems with mobility we have always gone to their car to give it to them. We have already been out to the local public schools, Lees-McRae College, and to several businesses. We have plenty of flu vaccines available,” Gragg said.
While COVID-19 and the flu are two separate viruses, there are similar side effects that are produced between the two when someone is infected. Both diseases are respiratory viruses and spread in a similar way, which can produce difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Additional symptoms associated with the viruses include fever, cough and aches. It is worth noting that COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu, especially among certain populations and age groups.
It is possible to be infected with both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. However, according to local health officials, it has been a rare occurrence.
“We have only seen a limited flu season so far. I have seen that we have had around five cases of Covid that were also positive for the flu,” Gragg said.
At a time when medical facilities are experiencing a high number of patients, it is important to do what one can to prevent themselves from becoming ill and possibly developing serious symptoms. As of Dec. 8, Watauga Medical Center had a patient census of 87, which included both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. In order to deal with the surge, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System entered into a contract with a nurse staffing agency to provide 15 additional nurses to the COVID-19 unit.
Meanwhile, other hospitals across the region are experiencing a similar surge in hospitalizations, which places additional stress on the health care system, as well as fatigue on health care workers.
“We need people to realize that maintaining their own health is really important. Let’s say you have hypertension and you feel a little bit weird, you put that off because you haven’t been taking your medication or you didn’t have a follow-up appointment with your doctor because you’re scared you’re going to get COVID-19 (and then) you end up in the emergency department. The cascade occurs where you get admitted, and that’s another bed,” Rob Hudspeth, senior vice president for system advancement at the ARHS, said in an interview with The Watauga Democrat.
In order to help ease the strain on the hospital by preventing flu infections, App Health Care will be offering a drive-thru flu vaccination clinic from 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 17 and 18. Locations include the 126 Poplar Grove Connector in Boone and 413 McConnell Street in Jefferson.
“It is important to receive the flu vaccine in order to protect you and your loved ones during the flu season. This year, it is more important than ever because of COVID-19 and flu that can circulate in the community at the same time. The best way to prevent the spread of flu is to get the flu vaccine. You can get your vaccine at AppHealthCare drive-thru clinics or see your healthcare provider or local pharmacy,” stated Jennifer Greene, Health Director, AppHealthCare.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), benefits to receiving a flu vaccine each year include protecting people who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from the flu, making the illness milder, reducing the risk of more serious outcome and protecting pregnant women and developing babies from the illness.
To receive your flu vaccine, call App Health Care in Watauga at (828) 264-4995 or in Ashe at (336) 246-9449. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System can be contacted by calling (828) 262-4100, and the Avery County Health Department can be contacted at (828) 733-6031.
Local pharmacies and drug stores, such as CVS, Walgreens and Boone Drug, carry the flu vaccine as well.