20 Feb Update on the 2018-2019 Flu Season
Last year the impact from flu-related illnesses reached epidemic proportions. Approximately 48 million people became sick with the flu. Over 900,000 were hospitalized and 80,000 Americans died from the illness during the 2017-2018 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fortunately, this year’s season is not shaping up to be nearly as severe. CDC estimates 6.2 million to 7.3 million people in the United States have been sick with the flu since October. To date approximately 69,000 to 84,000 people have been hospitalized. Unfortunately, states around the country have reported flu-related deaths. However, an official estimate of the number of people who died from influenza will be given at a later date by the CDC. Thankfully, deaths from this year’s season should not be as high as last year.
Seasonal influenza activity did increase reaching a new season high in 48 states and Puerto Rico, as of February 9. This is according to the most recent data in the CDC’s weekly FluView Report. Although the number of people getting the flu this year is going up, these levels remain well below those of last year.
It’s Not Too Late
The CDC reports the 2018-19 flu season vaccine is 47 percent effective overall and 61 percent effective for children ages 6 months through 17 years. This upward trend is good news compared to the previous two seasons when vaccine effectiveness was 40% for all age groups. This year’s vaccine effective rate may even go up after the CDC gives its final analysis at the end of the season.
The best time to get an influenza vaccine is by the end of October before the illness starts spreading in your community which is usually by the end of November. The season generally peaks between December and March. Still, it is not too late to get a flu shot if you have not gotten one yet. As long as people are coming down with the flu in your area it is beneficial to get the vaccine. Influenza seasons can be unpredictable and a surge of new cases can occur as late as May. Call your doctor or local pharmacy to make sure they still have a supply of the vaccine available. I checked our local CVS pharmacy and shots are still available.
CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. This is first and most important step in protecting against the virus. Remember, the flu shot doesn’t just help you avoid the flu. It also minimizes your chances of secondary complications from the virus which include pneumonia, stroke, and heart attack. This is especially important for people 65 years and older who are already at greater risk for these conditions. Anyone 65 years and older should get a flu shot and not a nasal spray vaccine. There are regular flu shots that are approved for use in people 65 and older and there also are two vaccines designed specifically for seniors: High-Dose Flu Vaccine and Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine. Ask your doctor which one is best for you.
Kindly remind and encourage your family members, friends, and people in your community to get a yearly flu shot. The vaccine not only protects an individual but also provides herd immunity which helps protect the population as a whole.