Flu is here – but it’s not too late to vaccinate
It’s still far too soon to predict how bad this year’s flu season will be, but health officials hope it won’t repeat the scenario of 2017-18.
Nationwide, last year about 49 million people in the U.S. came down with influenza. Almost a million of them ended up in the hospital, and nearly 80,000 people died.
There were two main reasons for last year’s epidemic: the predominant strain of flu virus circulating among the population was especially aggressive; and the 2018 vaccine did not match the strains of flu that most people were coming down with.
However, the outlook is brighter this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the current vaccine includes a good match for the circulating H1N1 virus and two other flu strains.
According to CDC director Robert Redfield, so far this year about 45 percent of adults and 46 percent of children in the U.S. have received the flu vaccine.
“That’s still a far cry from the entire population,” he said. “I’d love to see us get the vaccine rate over 75 percent.”
It takes about two weeks for your body to build up immunity after getting vaccinated, but if you receive the shot now, you’ll still be protected for most of the flu season, which runs through May (usually peaking in February). Even if you do get the flu, your symptoms are likely to be less severe if you’ve been vaccinated.
Shots are still available at the White County Health Department (for $25, but if you have insurance it’s usually free). Nearly all pharmacies also offer the shots.
Getting vaccinated is especially important in Georgia, which was the first state in the U.S. to report “widespread” flu activity this season (on Dec. 2). A week later, Colorado became the second state, and by Dec. 16, the flu was widespread in 11 states.
By the last week in December, 7.4 percent of doctor visits in Georgia were for flu-like symptoms (compared to the baseline of 2.2 percent), and four deaths had been attributed to influenza (one patient was a child; the other three were senior citizens).
“We haven’t had anything so far that’s really bad,” said Elizabeth Goodman, head nurse for the White County school system, on Jan. 4.
“Before the Christmas break, we had only minimal cases. Since returning from the break, we’ve had a few kids tell nurses that they had the flu during the break, but we don’t have laboratory confirmation of that.”
Goodman recalls that last year’s raging epidemic really began in earnest in January.
“Even people who had the flu shot were getting the flu,” she said. “And throughout January and February, it kept lingering.”
Perhaps as a result of that ordeal, Goodman said, “There seemed to be more demand for flu shots this year.”
The 2018 epidemic overwhelmed many emergency rooms and urgent-care clinics, leading health-care providers to devise some innovative strategies for dealing with the flu.