Angelica Resendiz, a registered nurse with the Malheur County Health Department shows one of the syringes used to deliver flu vaccine. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Area health officials say the flu vaccine may be even more important this year as the Covid epidemic continues to rage across Oregon and Idaho.

That’s because a severe flu season could push more people into area hospitals and complicate the already complex task of treating Covid patients.

“If we have an opportunity to reduce the incidence of flu and the impact it has on the health care system, then we absolutely want people to get their flu shot this year,” said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

The Covid epidemic promises to generate a flu season of unprecedented hurdles for health care professionals because many of the symptoms associated with Covid mimic flu symptoms.

“The symptoms are indistinguishable except for the loss of taste and smell. We have to treat them all as Covid symptoms until we can rule it out,” said Poe.

While flu and Covid are respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses.

Covid is triggered by a new coronavirus and is named for its crown-like spokes on its surface.

The flu is caused by the influenza virus.

Based on the available data, Covid appears to spread faster and easier than flu and can result in more serious illnesses in some. Symptoms of Covid typically take longer to appear than the flu. There is no vaccine for Covid – though several are in development – but there is one for the flu.

“Getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever because it can protect you from getting a respiratory infection that could kill you,” said Kurt Kracaw, doctor of family medicine at Saint Alphonsus Fruitland Health Plaza.

Kracaw said getting the flu vaccine improves a person’s chance of avoiding a serious medical condition.

“Getting both the flu and COVID-19 would be a terrible combination,” said Kracaw.

Another attribute of the flu vaccine, said Kracaw, is it hampers the range of the virus.

“A flu shot protects your family and close friends because those who are inoculated can’t spread the flu virus,” said Kracaw.

Poe said this year the good news is there will be plenty of flu vaccine.

Flu shots are available from primary care providers, Valley Family Health Care, Rite-Aid, Walgreens and the Malheur County Health Department. Shots are free with most insurance.

For those who are uninsured, the county health department provides free flu shots.

Kracaw said the Saint Alphonsus Fruitland Health Plaza will also open a drive-thru flu shot clinic soon.

Flu vaccine is also available at Malheur Drug in Vale. Vale area residents seem to take the threat from flu seriously, said pharmacist Jennifer Tolman.

“Most years we use it all up,” said Tolman.

Tolman said it is “always a good idea” to get a flu shot.

Kracaw said a flu inoculation is “one less concern to have until a vaccination for Covid-19 is widely available.”

Poe said no one can accurately predict how serious a flu season will be but measures to avoid Covid – such as social distancing and wearing masks - also help stops the spread of the flu.

“What we have been doing for Covid is great flu prevention,” said Poe.

The annual costs of the flu on the American economy exceeds $10 billion and produces more than 30,000 deaths, 31.4 million outpatient visits and more than 300,000 hospital admissions.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.

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