Flu shots recommended as viruses threaten to comingle  

BAR HARBOR  Nobody wants to self-isolate for 10 days or quarantine for 14 days, but as we head into flu season under the grip of COVID-19, each and every sniffle is likely to induce a heightened response.  

In a typical year, roughly 70 to 80 people in Maine die of the flu. In a typical year, approximately 10,200 people statewide are infected with the disease and thousands of tests are administered 

This, however, is not a typical year. 

This yearas Mainers prepare for the flu season, they will also have an ongoing coronavirus pandemicand the two are expected to overlap. To ease the burden, and to keep people healthy, medical professionals are urging everyone who can to get a flu vaccine.  

“This presents an interesting situation,” said Dr. Julius Krevans of Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor of the overlap between influenza and coronavirus. On one hand, he explained in an interview with the Islander on Monday, all the measures people are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing, washing hands and wearing a face covering are also effective against spreading the flu. 

“In the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season is ending, we’ve seen a lessened season overall,” said Krevans. 

But, as Krevans added, if a person’s immune system is forced to have to defend itself against COVID-19 and the flu at the same timeit can have dramatic consequences including the trigger of a hyper-inflammatory immune response known as acute respiratory distress syndrome 

The flu, which circulates from October through April, tends to move across the United States from west to east, explained Dr. Mike Murnik, VP senior physician executive of Northern Light Blue Hill and Maine Coast hospitals, with Maine beginning and ending its flu season later than its West Coast counterparts.  

Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches and fatigue. Those are the same symptoms as COVID-19, said Murnik, noting that one distinguishing feature of COVID-19  the loss of smell and or taste  could also occur when a cold or allergies clog the olfactory system. 

When people are sick with a cold or flu, they tend to do well with rest and chicken soup while their immune systems battle the virus. Both flu and COVID-19 present in similar ways, said Murnik, and some people will get really sick while others may have a mild caseBoth are respiratory diseases that are primarily transmitted by droplets in the air.  

For most people with the flu, resting at home until symptoms pass will usually do the trick, but Murnik urges people to “monitor symptoms” and seek medical attention when necessary.  

Above all, say the medical professionals, don’t spread it, which means staying at home when you are sick and determining which virus is present.  

This year the stakes are higher, said Krevans. 

In a typical year, he said, “if one member of a family has a cough or fever, they are given soup, everyone washes their hands and they wait. This year no one goes to school, no one goes to work, and everyone gets a COVID test” before activities can resume 

The flu has an incubation period of anywhere from one to three days after infection. For COVID-19, symptoms typically appear anywhere from five to 14 days after infection 

Who should get a flu shot?  

According to Murnik “everybody not allergic to the flu vaccine should get one.”   

Unlike coronavirus, which has a number of vaccines vying to be first to the market, there is a vaccine for flu and it has been around for the last 80 years. Getting a flu shot, said Murnik, will limit community transmission of the flu virus. It also has the potential to keep people away from needing medical services, which will likely be in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic 

“The flu shot is available now,” said Krevans, adding that he received his on Tuesday. 

“It will help you as an individual, but it will also help the community by limiting the amount of virus that is circulating, he said, allowing the community to remain healthy and to keep schools and businesses open.  

Flu shots and clinics are beginning to take shape. Walgreens, Shaw’s and Community Pharmacy locations are offering walk-in flu vaccinations. Appointments to receive the vaccine can also be made with a primary care physician.  

Other area clinics known by press time include a free flu shot clinic at the Ellsworth Free Medical Clinic on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as the following drive-thru clinics, all of which are scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon: 

  • Saturday, Sept. 26 – Blue Hill Hospital, 57 Water St., Blue Hill
  • Saturday, Sept. 26 – Maine Coast Hospital, 50 Union St., Ellsworth
  • Saturday, Oct. 3 – Northern Light Primary Care, 102 Court St., Castine
  • Saturday, Oct. 3 – Deer Isle-Stonington High School, Deer Isle
  • Saturday, Oct. 3 – Blue Hill Hospital, 57 Water St., Blue Hill
  • Saturday, Oct. 3 – Maine Coast Hospital, 50 Union St., Ellsworth

For more information, or to pre-register, call 374-2311 for Blue Hill Hospital flu clinics and 664-7751 for Maine Coast Hospital flu clinics. 

Faith DeAmbrose

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander

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