A woman gets a flu shot at a Walgreens drug store in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

A lot of Americans are rightly worried about COVID-19 and taking precautions to avoid contracting coronavirus. This time of year, there is another illness that should also get our attention — the flu.

This year, it is more important than ever — for your health and for your community’s health — to get a flu shot.

In a typical year, less than half of American adults get a flu shot. The immunization lasts for only one season, so even if you got a shot last year, you’ll need to get another one this year.

With both coronavirus and seasonal flu active in America, protecting yourself against both illnesses simply makes sense.

“As we go into the fall and into the winter, on the doorstep of flu season, a possibility of two concurrent epidemics — one of COVID-19, the other of influenza — arriving in the state of Maine with remarkable force, is a possibility we cannot ignore,” Dr. Nirav Shah, the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said earlier this month. “If we don’t get a shorter grip on COVID-19 now, the arrival of flu season on top of that will make the fall and winter that much more difficult.”

Between 9,000 and 10,400 Mainers have tested positive for influenza in each of the past few seasons, according to Maine CDC data. The number of flu hospitalizations has ranged from 500 to more than 1,700 in a season, and there have also been from 40 to 80 deaths.

By comparison, 5,337 cases of coronavirus in Maine since March with 447 hospitalizations and 141 deaths.

Maine has done a good job of keeping COVID in check. The state’s rural, spread out population has helped, but so, too, have restrictions on gatherings and some activities as well as Mainers willingness to wear masks and to take other precautions, health experts say.

However, recent outbreaks, particularly in York County, remain a concern, especially as flu season begins.

“This is the single most important year that people can get the influenza vaccine,” Dr. James Jarvis, the clinical lead for the COVID-19 incident command at Northern Light Health, told the BDN last week. “We don’t want to have this confusion and we don’t want to see people need hospital care for influenza when we’re expecting people to have COVID.”

Although there is not yet research on the impact of having both the flu and coronavirus, both affect the lungs, so there is a likelihood that having one will worsen the consequences of contracting the other.

“To the extent that the lungs are damaged by one disease and the other one comes along and damages it more, you can get into trouble faster,” said Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California at San Francisco.

“In a season of COVID, you don’t want to have both at the same time, believe me,” he added.

There are numerous places to get flu shots in Maine, including at your doctor’s office and many drug stores and grocery stores. VaccineFinder offers an easy way to find flu shot clinics near you.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance providers must cover flu shots, although you should contact your provider or employer to see if you must get the immunization at a specific facility.

Many of the things we are doing to slow the spread of coronavirus — wearing masks, frequent hand washing, avoiding large groups and staying at least six feet apart — will also help diminish flu outbreaks. Getting a flu shot adds another layer of protection against this seasonal illness.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...