Ketchikan residents, like many people worldwide, are concerned about the potential spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
We were pleased to hear from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Wednesday that no cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Alaska thus far.
It also was good to hear that the department is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other health partners on the local, tribal, state and federal levels, to prepare for and respond to COVID-19. It’s an appropriate action to a serious circumstance.
Although COVID-19 had not arrived in Alaska, another potentially deadly virus already is among us. It’s called influenza — which most of us know of as the “flu.”
Nationwide, CDC estimates that there have been up to 41 million flu-related illnesses between Oct. 1 and Feb. 15 in the United States, prompting between 280,000 and 500,000 hospitalizations, and 16,000 to 41,000 deaths.
Given numbers like that, influenza should be taken seriously. And even at this stage of the seasonal flu season, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services continues to urge Alaskans of age six months and older to get flu vaccinations.
“It’s not too late to vaccinate,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the Alaska state epidemiologist, in Wednesday’s announcement.
McLaughlin stressed that obtaining the flu vaccine “greatly reduces” an individual’s chances of getting the flu and helps prevent more severe cases of the flu.
This past week, the Centers for Disease Control published a report indicating that this year’s flu vaccine has prevented health care visits for about half of those people who have been vaccinated.
“The message is simple,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said in the announcement. “Getting a flu shot helps protect individuals, families and communities. Making sure Alaskans are vaccinated against the flu will also help prevent our medical facilities from having to cope with an influx of flu cases as they are treating patients with other illnesses or preparing for the possibility of COVID-19 cases in Alaska.”
McLaughlin added that Alaska’s goal is to boost its vaccination rates before the “second wave” of seasonal influenza activity that’s now occurring in the Lower 48 arrives in Alaska. Again, we appreciate these types of actions that can reduce the incidence and severity of illness in Alaska.
In addition to getting vaccinations, there are other, more basic, things that all of us can be doing to help prevent cases of the flu, not to mention colds and COVID-19.
According to DHSS, these steps include washing hands with soap and water often, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
In addition, it’s advisable to avoid contact with people who are sick. And, if you’re not feeling well, be considerate: Stay home to avoid close contact with other people.
Let’s do what we can to minimize the occurrence of the flu in our community and state.