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COVID-19 update Flu vaccine more important than ever

New Ulm Medical Center lab technicians Shelby Abfalter (left) and Julie Bates stand in front of the new COVID-19 analyzer as it processes a batch of COVID-19 tests. NUMC can now process tests in-house, which will speed up test results.

This fall the cold and flu season will be more complicated, with many of the symptoms of both the flu and COVID-19 resembling the other and more severe cases of both requiring hospitalization. In addition, as COVID-19 stretches on into several months, anxiety over the disease itself as well as its unfortunate ramifications on many peoples’ livelihoods has increased.

However, there are steps everyone can take to ensure they are protecting themselves as best as possible and bolstering their emotional well-being, also.

Get the Flu Shot

This year, it will be more important than ever to get the influenza vaccine. “Influenza kills many people each year and there is about a 25 percent chance for the general population to become co-infected with both influenza and COVID-19,” said Bryanna Andert, DO, family medicine physician at New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC). “If a person were to be infected with both, we would expect poorer outcomes.”

Additionally, with the possibility of a COVID-19 spike in the community at any time, the more of the general population that get the flu shot, the better chance hospitals and clinics will have adequate capacity to care for COVID patients when necessary.

“We have the ability to give the influenza vaccine at nearly every visit a person has at the clinic,” Andert said. “Or you can schedule a nurse-only appointment, which is a quick in-and-out visit solely to get the flu shot.”

Also, because influenza and COVID-19 can seem similar, if a person has had the flu shot, it can help a practitioner make medical determinations when a patient presents with the symptoms.

Some of those similar symptoms include fever, sore throat, and body aches. Key differences in symptoms would be the loss of taste and smell with COVID, Andert said. “People are also more likely to have shortness of breath with COVID, also.”

Appointment Options

If you are feeling sick this fall and winter, but aren’t sure if it’s the cold, flu, COVID-19 or something else, call the clinic before coming in, Andert said. “Our registration and nursing staff are really well trained in terms of determining what the best kind of visit for you will be,” she said.

A virtual visit is one of the best options and is growing in popularity. A virtual visit is convenient, especially when you are feeling sick and don’t want to leave home, protects others from being exposed to illness, and protects you from being exposed to others who may have a different virus. With a virtual visit, you are able to meet with a provider – often your own primary care provider – and they can help determine the best course of action.

Because a virtual visit is a scheduled visit, it eliminates a potential wait at the NUMC Urgent Care and frees up Urgent Care for patients who truly need immediate, face-to-face appointments.

If the provider determines on a virtual visit that the patient needs testing, there is convenient testing for certain diagnoses, such as COVID-19, strep throat, and RSV (for children). There is a testing station for just these diagnoses set up just inside the hospital front entrance (near where the curbside testing was located before the weather turned cold). Patients will be able to enter and exit that area quickly for their testing with minimal wait time and contact with other patients or staff. The patient will be notified later of the results of their test.

Virtual visits are also a great option for other medical concerns.

“For healthy patients without respiratory symptoms, virtual care continues to be a good option to limit visits to the clinic and potential exposures,” Andert said.

Managing Anxiety

As COVID-19 stretches on into several months, many people are experiencing increased anxiety over the threat of the illness, worry for friends and family members, extended periods of isolation, and potential financial hardships. In addition, some deal with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as the days start to get shorter.

There are steps you can take to bolster your mental health that are, in fact, good practices to turn into ongoing habits, Andert said. Her recommendations are:

• Get adequate sleep

• Drink plenty of water

• Eat nutritiously (limit high sugar and fat foods, get 5-10 servings of fruits and veggies a day)

• Move your body/stay active (have a goal of 150 minutes of activity each week)

• Consider meditation or breathing/relaxation practices

• Try practicing gratitude daily: keep a gratitude journal or at least note three good things each day

• Find time for hobbies or activities that bring you joy and decrease your stress

If you find yourself more anxious than usual and none of the above steps are helping, consider talking with your provider about other treatment strategies.

For more information on COVID-19 and Allina Health resources, visit allinahealth.org/coronavirus-covid-19. To schedule an appointment at NUMC – virtual or otherwise – call 507-217-5011.

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