With fewer wearing masks in use, influenza cases expected to rise
October 13, 2022
CODY — After two years of fewer-than-normal influenza cases due to public health measures implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic, local health officials are expecting the virus to come back in force this flu season.
“The last few years there has been very little flu because people were generally doing what we asked them to do: wearing a mask, washing their hands, things like that,” Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said. “But it’s generally expected that will change significantly this year.”
Laura Farnworth, registered nurse and employee health coordinator for Cody Regional Health, agreed.
“About March or April of this year (2022) when Covid started dying off and there were fewer regulations for masking, we did see a spike of influenza,” she said. “We do anticipate this coming flu season to be more of the same. We should see an influx of all sorts of airborne diseases now that people aren’t masking as much.”
Flu is a contagious disease that spreads around the United States every year, usually between October and May. Anyone can get the flu, but it is most dangerous for infants and young children, people 65 years and older, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an average year, thousands of people in the United States die from flu, and many more are hospitalized, according to the CDC.
Influenza is generally characterized by symptoms such as a runny nose, fever, body ache and sore throat, Billin said.
If you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to stay home and call a doctor, Farnworth said.
“The trouble now is it can be difficult to tell whether something is influenza, Covid or just allergies,” she added. “It’s really best to call your provider and find out. In the meantime, stay at home and don’t come in to work. Do what you can to avoid spreading whatever you might have.”
Farnworth also encouraged other public health measures to avoid spreading disease. These include frequently washing your hands with warm water and coughing into your arm.
The flu vaccine is another great way to avoid spreading the virus, Billin said.
All vaccines are quadrivalent, meaning they contain four strains of the virus — including two strains of Influenza A and two strains of influenza B — collected throughout the southern hemisphere during their flu season, he said.
According to the CDC, two of this year’s strains are identical to the previous vaccine, with one new A strain and one new B strain added. The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months receive a vaccination.
“The reason is not so much protecting yourself, although it does do that,” Billin said. “The real value in this is in protecting the herd. If enough people get vaccinated, we can reduce the effects of flu in Park County and the older folks who would be most impacted by it will hopefully not be impacted.”
Flu vaccines take roughly two weeks to take effect, and it is recommended people are vaccinated in October so they have time to build up immunity before the season hits its peak in December, he said.
There is an administrative fee for flu vaccines although most insurance companies cover the entire cost, Billin said.
This story was published on Oct. 10, 2022.