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Don’t ignore the other health threat this season — flu

While the coronavirus pandemic has understandably dominated the headlines, health experts are warning not to neglect the other main contagion that looms on the horizon this time of year: flu.

Concerns already have been raised about the threat of a “twindemic” — a severe flu season combining with a new surge in COVID-19 cases this fall.

With that in mind, Wisconsin state health officials Wednesday urged residents to get vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible, ideally no later than Halloween — a holiday that seems an apt reminder of just how scary the situation may get without the shot.

Reducing illness and hospitalization from flu is critical this year, they said, to protect frontline health care workers and hospital systems who will continue to care for people with COVID-19.

“Now more than ever, getting your flu vaccine is one of the most important and proactive steps you can take to protect yourself, the people you love, and people around you,” Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said. “Getting sick from the flu could result in hospitalization at a time when our frontline health workers are doing all they can to help COVID-19 patients recover.”

Last flu season, 42% of Wisconsinites received at least one dose of flu vaccine, leaving nearly two-thirds of people at higher risk of getting the flu. During 2019-2020 influenza season, the state had 36,175 flu cases reported, 4,425 flu-related hospitalizations and, tragically, 183 deaths, including three children. Last year also saw the highest number of pregnant women hospitalized for influenza.

Flu season is right around the corner in Wisconsin and it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to protect you against the virus. To get vaccinated, contact your local health care provider to schedule an appointment or checking with a pharmacy. If cost is a concern, families in Wisconsin may be eligible for the Vaccines for Children program.

For Michigan residents, information on preventing flu and obtaining a vaccination can be found online at https://www.michigan.gov/flu.

No matter which state, to find a site in your area that provides flu vaccinations, go online to https://vaccinefinder.org/.

Providers are being creative this year to help make vaccinations easy and convenient, from holding vaccination drives at churches and grocery store parking lots, to providing them curbside at clinics. Safety precautions related to COVID-19 are in place, including social distancing and sanitizing at clinics, temperature checks, and special scheduling.

Simple steps already being followed to stop the spread of COVID-19 also work for warding off the flu. In addition to the flu vaccine, people should also:

— Stay home when they’re sick;

— Cover coughs and sneezes;

— Wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.

To help increase flu vaccine rates statewide, the Wisconsin DHS just announced new funding for community organizations to reach out to underserved communities. DHS will award $950,000, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to five to 10 organizations, each receiving up to $200,000.

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