One of the more common reasons people have been giving in recent weeks for not getting their flu shot is their belief that flu season has probably peaked. The flu vaccine takes two weeks to provide full protection.
But as the latest map from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, far from having peaked, flu activity increased during the week ending Feb. 3. Comparing it with the week before, it's easy to see that among the relatively few states that weren't colored red for highest flu activity, most have moved closer to that level.
Other findings in the CDC report:
- The most frequently identified influenza virus subtype reported by public health laboratories during week 5 was influenza A(H3). The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza in clinical laboratories remained elevated.
- The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) was above the system-specific epidemic threshold in the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Surveillance System.
- Ten influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported.
- A cumulative rate of 59.9 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations per 100,000 population was reported.
- The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) was 7.7%, which is above the national baseline of 2.2%. All 10 regions reported ILI at or above region-specific baseline levels. New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 43 states experienced high ILI activity; three states experienced moderate ILI activity; two states experienced low ILI activity; and two states experienced minimal ILI activity.
- The geographic spread of influenza in Puerto Rico and 48 states was reported as widespread; two states reported regional activity; the District of Columbia and Guam reported local activity; and the U.S. Virgin Islands reported sporadic activity.
No one knows when the flu season will peak; getting the flu shot now will ensure that if flu activity remains high for the next several weeks, which many health experts expect, will ensure some level of protection.
Of course, the other common reason people give for not getting their flu shot is that it isn't effective enough. It's true that this isn't one of the best years for preventing the flu through vaccine, but getting the flu shot still improves people's chances significantly, as well as protecting the vulnerable people, such as young children and the elderly, with whom they come in contact.
It is especially important to remember this year, when a particularly troubling strain of the flu is going around, that even if the vaccine doesn't prevent illness altogether, there's a good chance that vaccinated people who catch the disease will experience a shorter, milder case.
So, no, the flu vaccine isn't useless. Not by a long shot. And no, it is not too late for you to get yours.
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