Flu season 2019 is off to a fast and furious start, with a strain of the virus that normally arrives later in the season making a strong early appearance, U.S. health officials said on Dec. 13.
Flu is now widespread across many parts of the country, said Lynnette Brammer, leader of the domestic influenza surveillance team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Influenza activity is going up, and we expect it to continue for many more weeks.”
Not only is the season ramping up early, but the strain that has caused most of the illnesses has been influenza B. In typical years, flu season begins with a wave of influenza A followed by a smaller wave of influenza B, Brammer explained.
You still have time to get your flu shot. Find a Sanford clinic near you.
Influenza B is the most common strain around at the moment, showing strong activity in North Dakota. On the other hand, influenza A H1N1 strain is being seen and is the predominant strain in New England and other areas of the country, Brammer added.
She still expects that this influenza B wave will be followed by a wave of influenza A. How severe the flu season will be is still up for grabs because it’s too early to predict what will happen, Brammer said.
The last flu season when B strains predominated was in 1992-1993, she noted.
Who should get vaccinated
Receiving the flu vaccine is universally recommended for anyone 6 months or older. Influenza is a contagious respiratory virus that can cause severe illness or death. Vaccinations can prevent influenza A and B, not only in those who receive the vaccination but others in the community as well.
Dr. Clifford Mauriello of Sanford Pediatric Infectious Diseases recommends that everyone should get their flu shot for the upcoming season, but those who are most susceptible to influenza and should receive their vaccination include:
- Young children
- Those over the age of 65
- People who have chronic pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, cystic fibrous, diabetes, chemotherapy, HIV or AIDS, chronic liver or heart disease, kidney disease
“Influenza is particularly dangerous for the elderly, the very young, and those with chronic diseases,” said Dr. Mauriello. “These patients can be very ill if they catch influenza and require hospitalization or intensive care. Vaccination can prevent influenza illness and hospitalization and death.”
There is still plenty of vaccine available, Brammer said.
For kids and some adults who don’t like shots, a nasal spray vaccine is available.
Pregnant women should also get their shot to protect themselves and their baby, the CDC recommends.
“Even if you’re not high risk, getting vaccinated helps protect people that are high risk,” Brammer explained.
Where to get vaccines
Sanford Health offers the flu shot at its clinics without an appointment. The HealthMap Vaccine Finder is also a good resource.
You should check out your health plan because employers often pay for you to get vaccinated.
Although the CDC doesn’t keep constant track of adult hospitalizations or deaths, Brammer said the agency estimates that at least 3 million people have come down with flu so far this year. Roughly 23,000 have been hospitalized, and 1,300 have died from complications of flu.
Influenza B and children
Influenza B tends to affect children the most, and so far CDC is already reporting 10 pediatric deaths.
In most years, millions are sickened and hundreds of thousands hospitalized. As many as 60,000 die from flu, Brammer said, so there’s still a long way to go with this season.
Brammer noted that this year’s vaccine is a good match for both the A and B strains currently circulating.
Brammer said that some people think the vaccine isn’t very effective, so they skip getting it. But even if the vaccine isn’t as effective as the CDC would like, it still protects millions from the flu.
Also, even if you get sick, the vaccine makes your illness less severe. “Vaccine effectiveness isn’t always what we would like, but flu vaccine can reduce your risk of hospitalization 40%, and for healthy kids, it can reduce their chance of dying by 65%,” she noted.
If you do get the flu, antiviral medications are available that work against the viruses currently circulating.
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