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Never too early to plan flu shot, other vaccinations, UMMC experts say

Published on Friday, September 1, 2023

By: Danny Barrett Jr.

It’s tough to imagine flu and cold season being right around the corner during a summer of heat domes and burn bans. But, UMMC infectious disease experts remind us it’s still a good time to start thinking about basic protection.

Flu activity in Mississippi was low late August, as it was in much of the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu season is tracked between October and early April, but late summer social activity can still bump low numbers upward and jumpstart prevention efforts for the three most serious respiratory ailments.

Portrait of Bhagyashri Navalkele

“With schools reopening and Labor Day holiday travel, we are seeing an uptick in respiratory viruses circulating within the community,” said Dr. Bhagy Navalkele, associate professor of infectious diseases and medical director for infection prevention. “It’s best to stay up-to-date with vaccinations for COVID, influenza and, if you’re eligible for it, RSV.”

The CDC recommends everyone six months or older get a flu shot annually, with September and October being the best times. This year, the agency has eased concerns from previous years about how those with certain food allergies should receive the flu shot.

Portrait of Brian Williams

“Previously, people with confirmed allergies to egg products were cautioned to receive the shot in a more heavily-monitored setting, such as inside a clinic,” said Dr. Brian Williams, associate professor of preventive medicine. “Now, the shot isn’t made exclusively using egg products as it once was. This makes it safer for many more people.”

COVID-19 continues to change form, as the newest variants are less severe than the original virus but more transmissible. Hospitalizations and Emergency Department visits in Mississippi due to COVID rose in August as the Eris and BA.2.86 variants became the dominant strain nationwide, with versions of the XBB variant still prevalent in the numbers.

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, spiked last fall ahead of a wave of actions since then by the Food and Drug Administration to protect pregnant mothers and children. The virus is the leading cause of hospitalization among babies in the U.S.

As for that timeworn enemy – the common cold – Navalkele recommends diligence in both preventing it and discerning it from the other, more serious conditions.

“There are more than 100 different types of viruses which can cause common cold,” Navalkele said. “It is difficult to say which respiratory viruses are currently circulating around as most people don't go to clinic or urgent care for common cold symptoms.

“Children are very likely to get infected with the start of school and pass it to adults. While suffering from common cold symptoms, we recommend specifically ruling out certain respiratory viruses such as COVID-19, influenza and RSV, as there are treatment options available for a specific patient population to prevent disease progression and for faster symptomatic improvement.”

Remedies to ease cold symptoms remain rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking over-the-counter fever reducers and antihistamines as needed. When gathering, stay in well-ventilated areas if possible and if not, consider wearing a well-fitting mask in areas not as well-ventilated.

“If you develop any symptoms, stay at home when sick, follow respiratory etiquette and undergo testing to rule out COVID-19 and flu during the flu season,” Navalkele said. “Contact your local provider for management for worsening symptoms or if you are at high-risk for disease progression.”

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.