Are you and your team ready for the upcoming flu season?
While Covid-19 stole the limelight for the last few years, health experts warn that the flu is still out there, too. Flu season begins in October and runs through May.
A recently released 2021-22 influenza season report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that while last year’s activity was considered low for the season, the flu cases also extended well beyond the normal flu “season.” CDC reports show flu cases increased to between eight million and 13 million between October 2021 and June 2022. That’s up from just over 2,000 cases reported for September 2020 to April 2021.
Wondering what will happen this year?
Here’s a look at what to expect for the upcoming flu season, how to prepare, and insight from two naturopathic physicians on prevention steps to take.
What’s New For The Upcoming Flu Season?
“With the continued anxiety that we've experienced due to the pandemic over the past two and half years, our stress is at an all-time high,” says Dr. Doni Wilson, naturopathic doctor in Stamford, Connecticut. “Stress weakens the immune system therefore reducing its ability to fight off antigens, making us more susceptible to infections. Especially with the recent variants of the coronavirus and other viruses like Monkeypox, we are all living on edge which could lead to a rampant flu season.”
More people are out and about, increasing the chances that more individuals are exposed to the virus. Behavioral changes from masking up everywhere are now lax, gatherings are bigger, and individuals knew practicing hand hygiene was essential.
Other flu news and changes to note:
- New changes for those 65 and older - During a June 2022 meeting, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advised those 65 and older to get a high-dose influenza vaccine for the best protection.
- New vaccine approved for kids - The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved the cell-based vaccine Flucelvax (Seqirus) in May 2021. The vaccine is for children six months and beyond. According to an article in Drug Topics: Voice of the Pharmacist: ‘“These data, presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2021 Virtual Meeting on May 1, 2021, represent the first US phase 3 study of a cell- based influenza vaccine in this population,” the press release noted.”
- Companies working on a combo flu/Covid vaccine - Currently, Moderna is in the midst of ongoing clinical trials for its mRNA-1230 combination vaccine. This vaccine will ideally protect against the flu, Covid-19, and the respiratory syncytial virus. Novavax, Inc. is also working on a Covid-19- flu combo vaccine. Its phase two confirmation trial will begin at the end of this year.
- FDA approves three licenses for Sanofi - In July 2022, the FDA approved licenses for Sanofi, a global healthcare company, to move forward with its Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent, Flublok Quadrivalent, and Fluzone Quadrivalent influenza vaccines for the 2022-2023 season. A clinical study found that Flublok Quadrivalent is the first recombinant influenza vaccine for adults 18 and older proven to be 30% more effective than a standard vaccine dose.
Important to note: There are a lot of updates about the upcoming flu season and it can feel overwhelming to process. For the newest research and trusted resources, always check the CDC or your local health department websites. You can also have a conversation with your pharmacist or primary care doctor to better understand how the flu may impact you and your community this season.
Tips on How to Prepare for Flu Season
Flu prevention isn’t a one-and-done sort of deal. To prevent the flu and its spread, it’s an ongoing, everyday effort between both employers and employees that will make the biggest difference.
Here are a few tips for both employees and employers to consider as we approach flu season:
Take Preventative Measures
For employers, this means having sick policies clearly laid out, keeping a strict cleaning schedule, and providing plenty of soap and hand sanitizer. Cross-train workers to help out if a fellow colleague is ill. Workers can help by staying home when sick, and routinely sanitizing door knobs, computer mouses, keyboards, phones, and other high-touch surfaces.
Watch Your Stress Levels
“If employees are under chronic, daily stress, they should be advised to take breaks versus eating lunch at their desks or working long hours with no chance of stopping. Stress lowers your immune function and if we don't have the opportunity to recover by taking a break, even as simple as getting outside for a walk, our chances of becoming ill increase. Other stress recovery activities are mindfulness, meditation, journaling, singing, or just talking with a friend. Also, when you get sick, the key is to act fast! If you delay even 12 hours, you are prolonging the time you will be sick. Encourage employees to take time off at the first sign of sickness to avoid spreading the highly contagious virus to others.”
— Dr. Doni Wilson, naturopathic doctor in Stamford, Connecticut
Encourage Working From Home
The flu spreads quickly, which is why it can take your workforce down so fast. If your company is using a hybrid work model or your team is fully in-office, make sure employees know working from home is a must when sick. While it may be an inconvenience short term, it’s worse if an ill person comes in and spreads sickness to your whole team. “People with flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Keep an Eye on Vitamin D Levels
“I would say many people who have already experienced viral infections, and/or have inhibited immune systems should take proper precautions beginning in October of the year as the light time hours diminish. As there is less sun, the body has fewer opportunities to synthesize vitamin d, which helps support the immune system. Supplementation can be provided with typical immuno-supportive nutrients such as vitamin c, zinc, and vitamin d. It is also important that people — especially from more vulnerable populations — clean their diet up. Eat less sugars, which can feed infections as well as inhibit immune systems. These include all simple sugars including bread, pasta, or rice as well.”
— Dr. Erica Steele, naturopathic doctor of Holistic Family Practice
Get the Flu Shot
Ideally, everyone should get their flu shot by the end of October. This ensures the vaccine has time to work before flu season starts to get active. This year’s recommendation from the CDC is adults 65 and older get the high-dose influenza vaccine for the best protection. Employers can make it simple for their workers to get their flu shot by hosting a flu clinic right on the job site. Good news for next year’s flu season: Combination vaccines that include defense against respiratory illnesses like Covid-19 and the flu are currently in trial phases.
RELATED: How to Host a Flu Shot Clinic
Prepare Now for the Upcoming 2022-23 Flu Season
There’s no time like now to start preparing your company and staff for the flu season.
After dealing with the Covid pandemic for the last few years, the flu may seem like a minimal health concern, but being too relaxed about it can create a domino-effect of negative issues. A flu outbreak can easily take an employee out of the office for up to a week. By taking preventative measures and encouraging staff to stay home when sick, you do everyone a favor.
Lastly, ensuring your employees are focusing on overall good health and smart lifestyle choices can make all the difference, too. That’s where your wellness initiatives and wellness committees come into play. Offer health incentives for those who opt to quit smoking, match healthcare outside of benefits packages, and take time to lay out smart preventative health campaigns. Overall good health keeps the immune system strong and can help keep the flu away.
How is your company preparing for the upcoming flu season?