Every year is the right year for getting a flu shot, but this fall, there are a couple of extra reasons to place the annual vaccination high on your list of to-dos.
According to a report by the Associated Press, health officials are concerned that the particularly tough flu season in the Southern Hemisphere, especially in Australia, might indicate a similar situation here.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen but there’s a chance we could have a season similar to Australia,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, influenza chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told AP.
Australia was particularly stricken by the H3N2 flu strain. Three years ago, then-CDC director Thomas Frieden told the Los Angeles Times: “We know that in seasons when H3 viruses predominate, we tend to have seasons that are the worst flu years, with more hospitalizations from flu and more deaths from the flu.”
And this year, Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, called H3N2 “the bad actor,” telling AP, “If you needed another reason to get vaccinated, there it is. Best get that protection.”
Jernigan said the H3N2 strain hasn’t changed much this past year, so the flu vaccine for 2017-18 is a pretty good match for what could be the dominant strain. Last year’s vaccine was about 50 percent effective, meaning it protected about half the people exposed to the virus. That’s not among the highest effectiveness rates, but it nonetheless means significant numbers of lives saved from a disease that kills thousands of Americans each year.
Last flu season, more than 100 of those deaths were among children. Generally, the CDC reported, 80 to 85 percent of children who die from flu were not vaccinated.
And even when the vaccine doesn’t completely block people from getting sick, according to the CDC, data suggests that vaccinated people who are sickened with flu tend to get a milder case of the disease.
Flu season also appears to be off to an early start this year in some parts of the nation, according to various news reports. The AP reported that 19 flu cases had been reported in Wisconsin from Sept. 1 to 23, compared with only five cases during the same time last year. Nearly half of those stricken in September required hospitalization.
Let’s not forget that millions of Texans have an added reason to protect themselves: The disastrous flooding in the Houston area and continuing efforts to clean up and rebuild also have placed a physical and emotional burden on millions of people. That stress, and less-than-ideal temporary housing situations, can strain the immune system, making people more prone to illness.
Nearly everyone ages 6 months and older should have the protection of a flu shot. Once again this year, the nasal flu mist is not recommended. (See our previous blog post on how to make shots less frightening and even less painful for children.) And despite a widely noticed recent study that found a link between miscarriages and flu shots during pregnancy, it’s important to know that at this point, the study is an outlier and other studies have found no connection. The flu is particularly dangerous to babies, and vaccinated mothers pass on protection to their newborns who are too young to be vaccinated. The CDC continues to recommend the shot for pregnant women.
The CDC notes that there are several options for flu shots this year, including ones made without egg for people with egg allergies, high-dose shots for older people whose weaker immune systems might need extra protection, and, for some people afraid of needles, a vaccination with a jet injector. Another kind of flu shot is delivered into the skin rather than the muscle.
The ingredient thimerosal that worries some parents, even though repeated studies have found no links between the vaccine preservative and autism, is present in multi-dose flu packs, but you can ask your doctor about single-dose and prefilled vials of the vaccine that do not contain thimerosal.
Finally, don’t wait to see how bad this year’s flu season gets. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so get your protection now!
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