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Getting flu vaccine encouraged

By Richard Rourk

As the crisp breezes of fall blow in, so does flu season.

According to the CDC, flu season runs from October until May and usually peaks December through February.

Ballad Health’s Director of Infection Prevention Jamie Swift said that now is the time to get a flu vaccine.

“To be ready for this season’s peak, people over the age of 6 months should be getting their flu shots now,” Swift said.

Officials with the Unicoi County Health Department also recommend the flu shot.

“We recommend a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu,” Unicoi County Health Department Director Michelle Ramsey said. “Getting a flu shot helps protect those in our community who can’t get a vaccination, such as very young children and people with certain medical conditions.”

According to Ramsey, other measures are required to protect yourself and others during the flu season.

“In addition to getting a flu shot, we recommend these safety measures,” Ramsey said. These simple steps will help prevent the spread of flu:

• Stay home when you’re sick.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

• Contact your health care provider by phone for advice and treatment options if you think you have the flu.

Swift acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to either make this year’s flu season better or worse.

“If everyone is following the COVID-19 protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing and hand sanitizing, we may very well see a lower spread of the flu and COVID-19,” Swift said. “If we get fatigued and loosen up on our mask-wearing, social distancing and hand sanitizing, we could be in for a long and dangerous flu season that will put a strain on all healthcare facilities.”

According to Swift, flu shots are proven to aid in the fight against the flu and they are readily available.

“I can’t speak for other facilities, but I know Ballad has flu shots available in our urgent care facilities and for those that are hospitalized in our facilities and request one,” Swift said. “This vaccine has been around for years and has been proven to help against the flu.”

Swift announced to The Erwin Record that Ballad Health is working on an exam that will test for both flu types and COVID-19 with one specimen.

“We hope to have a test very soon at all of our urgent care facilities that will test for both Influenza A and Influenza B, as well as COVID-19 with one swab,” Swift said. “We hope to announce the launch of this test very soon.”

You can learn more about flu season and keep up with the latest news by following balladhealth.org.

Flu shots are available daily for free at the health department by appointment. Please call 743-9103 for more information. You can also call your local pharmacy for your flu shot.

According to Ramsey, the Unicoi County Health Department and Unicoi County School System are partnering to host free drive-through flu vaccinations for students and their family members at the Unicoi County High School on Oct. 8 from 4-6 p.m. and Oct. 10 from 9-11 a.m. Participants remain in their vehicles throughout the process. Pre-registration is not required.