Seasonal flu, a frequent fall and winter visitor, didn’t make much of an appearance last year with people isolating and defending themselves from germs by wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Texas physicians say we may not be so lucky this year and, with upcoming holiday gatherings, urge everyone to get their annual influenza, or flu, shot.

“We’re starting to see an increase in flu cases,” said Donald Murphey, M.D., an Austin pediatric infectious disease specialist and chair of the Texas Medical Association (TMA) Council on Science and Public Health. “Your best protection against catching and spreading the flu is a vaccination.”

Flu vaccination is recommended each year for everyone 6 months of age and older, including pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu vaccination can defend people from getting flu, reduce the severity of illness, and keep individuals from ending up in the hospital, just as the COVID-19 vaccines lessen COVID-19 illness severity for most people.

“Nobody wants to spend their holiday season in the hospital battling flu or pneumonia,” Murphey said.

In pregnant women, the flu shot helps pass on some protection to the baby until he or she can be vaccinated.

Flu complications are most dangerous for the youngest and the oldest, and for people with chronic medical problems like asthma or any condition that weakens their body, like cancer. Most flu-related hospitalizations and nearly all (up to 85%) of flu-related deaths occur in people over age 65.

“Your sneeze or cough could be enough to make someone really sick whose body isn’t able to fight off the infection — from your new niece or nephew to your grandparent,” Murphey said. “Making sure you’ve had your flu shot protects you and others you’ll be around.”

People who have had a COVID-19 vaccination still need an annual flu vaccination. The two illnesses, while both respiratory, are caused by different viruses, or germs. COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus, and flu is caused by influenza viruses, which change.

A variety of flu vaccinations are available. Physicians recommend everyone check with his or her doctor to choose the best option. For those who haven’t yet had a COVID-19 vaccination, physicians say getting it at the same time as a flu vaccination is fine.

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