As of 2 days before Christmas, 36 of the US states reported widespread influenza and another 13 states reported regional influenza. In Maricopa County, Arizona, where I live (See picture above) , there has been an increase of almost 900% in flu cases compared to last season. The flu can be deadly, especially to the very young, the elderly, and immune compromised. But in 2009, the H1N1 flu related deaths were mostly in healthy young adults. This season already, there have been 12 children die in the US already from the flu.
Want to see the map of flu reports in your state? Click Here
Why is this season so bad and why didn’t the vaccine work better? Several reasons:
- Most cases of flu this year have been caused by the H3N2 strain. Seasons with H3N2 strains in the past have been pretty bad years. There are lots of variations in the strain, so it is hard to get exact matches for vaccines.
- Only ~40% people got vaccinated so far this year, so there is a high number of people with zero protection who can get and spread the infection.
- Vaccines have to be decided a year in advance, based on that current season. If the next season strains are very different or if there is a mutation in the strains, the vaccines may not be great matches. But they still help reduce how severely sick people get.
Is it worth getting the vaccine if it is only partly effective?
- Even though it isn’t a perfect match this year, the vaccine is about ~32%(estimated) effective against the flu this year. More importantly, the vaccine and can help reduce the risk severe symptoms and of hospitalization if you do get the flu this year.
Is it too late to get the vaccine?
- Not at all! It takes ~ 1-2 weeks for the body to get the full antibodies from the vaccine, so the sooner the better. And even though the vaccine is not as great of a match this year, it will reduce your chances of getting so sick that you end up in the hospital from complications from flu, including severe pneumonia.
- The flu shot can NOT cause the flu. Why? ‘Cause it’s dead. Dead, dead, dead. The researcher have chopped it to bits and treated it. All it can do is make your body kick out antibodies that will recognize the flu bug if you get it.
- But I’m allergic to eggs! Nope- this is NO LONGER a contradiction.
If I get sick, what can I do to not end up super sick or in the hospital?
- When you feel flu symptoms coming on, get in to your doctor right away. Your doctor can prescribe an antiviral that can stop you from getting as sick, and reduces the risk of hospitalization. BUT- it works best if started within 2 days of symptoms starting. It still works if you start a little later, but you don’t get as great of an effect.
- Also, be kind to your friends and family by:
- If you are sick staying home from work, or
- Keeping sick kids home from school so as not to keep spreading the flu.
- Cover your mouth when you cough to help stop the spread of the flu
- Wash your hands and
- Invest in a bottle of alcohol gel the size of Texas.