Influenza rates could be on the rise this year, making flu shots more necessary, according to health officials.

Reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early and possibly severe flu season, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Relaxed COVID-19 mitigation measures such as stay-at-home orders and mask mandates also could contribute to an increase in flu activity during the upcoming 2021-22 flu season as compared with the previous season when rates were historically low.

Common respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus and other human coronaviruses, excluding the one that causes COVID-19, did not spread as much during the 2020-21 flu season as in the past, but data from the National Respiratory and Enteric Surveillance System showed an increase in activity for these viruses during the summer, outside of their usual seasonal emergence.

Rock County Public Health Department communications specialist Jessica Turner said there might be more flu cases reported this season compared to last season, which was quite low.

“Testing will likely return to more normal levels whereas last year there was more emphasis on testing for COVID-19. We are also seeing less stringent use of masks and other preventative measures compared to this time last year,” Turner said.

Each flu season is a little different, but cases in the Midwest usually start in late fall and early winter.

According to the CDC, September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated for flu. Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October. Adults, especially those older than 65, should not get vaccinated early in July or August because protection in this age group could decrease over time.

“It will be important to get the flu shot again this fall. Even if you don’t usually get very sick, it is a good idea to get vaccinated to avoid spreading the flu to someone who might be at higher risk for getting severely ill,” Turner said.

People can get a flu shot at retail pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS or through their health care providers. People can also find a flu shot by visiting vaccinefinder.org.

Flu shots also will be offered at the Beloit Senior Fair, set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, at the Eclipse Center.

With rare exceptions, everyone age 6 months and older is recommended to receive annual flu vaccination, according to the CDC.

This year’s flu vaccine is designed to protect against four flu virus strains during the 2021-22 season.