Now that flu season is upon us, it is vital to get a flu vaccine. All of our patients are sick in some way, and many are elderly, which means that their chances of catching the flu are greatly increased. Often, the flu can lead to other serious complications such as pneumonia or death. The simplest way to avoid all of these threats is to get a flu shot.
You can get a flu shot from your doctor, from a clinic or local drugstore, or even from us! Just ask your nurse for more information. Typically, the flu vaccine takes two weeks to be effective, as your body needs time to build up antibodies against the flu virus. Even if you had a flu vaccine last year, it is important to get a new one this year because the influenza virus mutates constantly. Last year’s vaccine will no longer be effective. This year’s flu vaccine has been specially formulated to protect against the current strain of the virus.
Flu activity is highest from December to February, so don’t waste any time. Once a flu outbreak begins, it can be hard to stay healthy. Getting a flu shot will protect you most of the time and keep you healthy and safe.
A mutation to the H3N2 strain of the flu means that vaccines that were administered this year may only be effective one third of the time.
The CDC, which produces the vaccines, chose what viruses to include back in early February based on scientific predictions. Unfortunately, the virus began to show substantial mutations in March as the vaccine was already in production.
Rates of flu are spiking earlier than usual, and cities are reporting higher rates of hospitalization compared to previous years.
“We know that in seasons when H3 viruses predominant, we tend to have seasons that are the worst flu years, with more hospitalizations from flu and more deaths from the flu,” said CDC director Tom Frieden.
“Unfortunately, about half of the H3N2 viruses that we’ve analyzed this season are different from the H3N2 virus that’s included in this year’s flu vaccine. They are different enough that we’re concerned that protection from vaccinations against these drifted H3N2 viruses may be lower than we usually see.”
6.8 percent of all deaths reported during the 51st week of 2014 were related to pneumonia and influenza. There have already been 15 pediatric fatalities this year, compared to four pediatric deaths during the same time period last year, which seem to suggest that the 2014-2015 flu season will be even more dangerous than usual.
“It’s more significant than we’ve seen over the past two years,” said Gregg Lagan, a spokesman for Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s even catching individuals who have the flu shot.”
Currently, 36 states are experiencing high rates of flu activity. Pennsylvania is in the upper moderate range, while bordering states such as New Jersey and Maryland are in the upper high range.
So far, 2,643 people have been hospitalized for influenza, which equates to a hospitalization rate of 9.7 per 100,000 people.
“Our medical director said that in his eight years at the hospital, he had never seen double digits” of patients hospitalized for the flu, said Jill Chadwick, a spokeswoman at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. It has had 25 people admitted with the flu, two of which have died.
Regardless of its effectiveness, the CDC is still recommending people to get flu vaccines if they haven’t already. The flu vaccine may provide protection in some people, and it also may reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death even if it doesn’t offer full protection.