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Flu season could be bad this year, N.H. health officials warn

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Allison Quantz
/
NHPR

New Hampshire health officials say this year’s flu season could be the worst in several years, but getting vaccinated could help people cut down on their risk of catching it or becoming seriously ill.

Flu activity dropped sharply in the 2020-21 season, as COVID-19 mitigation measures helped slow the spread of other viruses. Last year saw more cases, though still far fewer than a typical season.

Experts say that’s likely to change this year. On a call with health care providers last week, state health officials said they expect flu activity to rebound this fall and winter.

The U.S. averaged tens of thousands of annual flu deaths in the years before the pandemic. Annual vaccines reduce the risk of catching the flu or becoming seriously ill from it, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends getting a flu shot by the end of October each year, though they can be administered later in the season. Flu typically peaks around February.

“I think we have forgotten about flu, because we haven't had it in a while,” said Dr. Justin Kim, an infectious disease physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. But, he cautioned, it remains a potentially serious disease. “So I would respect it and get a vaccine.”

Valerie Hart and her colleagues at Berlin-based Coos County Family Health Services are gearing up for a potentially busy fall.

“We are definitely planning to do as many clinics as we have demand for,” said Hart, the organization’s chief operating officer. “And we're doing all kinds of advertising to let people know that we have flu vaccine, and when those clinics are happening.”

Hart said the health center is trying to make it as convenient as possible for people to get the shots. Staff are offering them alongside COVID-19 boosters and during visits for routine care.

“We're really just trying to get the word out there to everybody, you know, don’t forget about your flu shot,” Hart said.

Flu vaccines are generally free with insurance and available through many doctors’ offices, pharmacies and urgent care clinics. ConvenientMD, which has locations around the state, is advertising free flu shots with or without insurance.

The CDC says it’s safe to get a flu shot and COVID booster at the same time. It may make mild side effects like headache or fatigue a little bit more likely.

Kim said he got both shots last Saturday.

“Felt a little bit under the weather for 12 hours,” he said, “but it was back to work on Sunday morning in the hospital.”

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