Preparations underway for flu season amid pandemic
State and county health officials along with medical facilities in Wyoming are preparing for flu season as COVID-19 continues to spread.
August 02, 2020
State and county health officials along with medical facilities in Wyoming are preparing for flu season as COVID-19 continues to spread. This year, they must prepare to balance typical planning and preparation for flu season with the added challenges of the coronavirus.
State and local health officials urge people to protect themselves and others as well as to help prevent strain on medical facilities and resources by receiving a flu vaccine and following COVID-19 prevention guidelines like wearing masks.
The vaccine prevents the flu or at least reduces the severity of illness, State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said.
“The influenza vaccine is always important, but this year it really is more important than ever. It can help prevent influenza from becoming a big problem while we also have COVID-19 happening.”
One focus as the Wyoming Department of Health prepares for flu season is the ability to accurately diagnose both illnesses, which can share some common symptoms, Harrist said.
Specific measures are required to fight the spread of COVID-19, such as isolation, quarantine and testing contacts of those with the illness. It’s important to be able to accurately diagnose the flu, too, because treatments and prophylactic medications are available for that illness.
“We want to make sure that we can identify flu so that we can implement those measures which are known to be quite effective and control disease that way,” Harrist said. “And so certainly, moving forward into the fall, we’re going to have both influenza and COVID. Symptoms are going to look fairly similar in many cases, and it is important that we be able to do surveillance and testing for both of those conditions.”
Some promising developments are on the way that could help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are developing a single laboratory test to detect both at once, and rapid testing technologies are being developed to diagnose flu and COVID-19.
The Wyoming Public Health Laboratory and providers around the state are looking to bring on some of the technology.
“That will be very helpful both for individual patient management as well as ... implementing public health measures,” Harrist said. “So we are looking forward to that.”
The state Health Department will continue its regular influenza surveillance to determine prevalence of influenza and what flu strains are spreading. That task includes a group called sentinel surveillance providers around Wyoming who send tests from their clinics to the state laboratory.
“Continuing that surveillance is going to be critical, so we know how much flu is contributing to illness in the state as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to happen,” Harrist said.