The reports on this year’s flu season are starting to come in. There have already been several flu-related deaths this fall, including a young child and a senior in Western states, and more cases are being reported in the Mid-Atlantic. Last year’s flu season was a rough one: the CDC estimates that between October of 2018 and May of 2019, there were up to 49 million cases of the flu and between 34,400 and 61,200 flu deaths. It’s not a virus to mess around with. Maryland has already been identified as a flu hotspot, and Virginia may be next. If you haven’t already gotten your flu shot this fall, now is the time to do it–for yourself and your entire family.
What is the Flu and When Is Flu Season?
Influenza or flu is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, runny nose, body aches and fatigue. The flu is not related to the so-called stomach flu, which is caused by completely different viruses and has different symptoms. Flu season is the term used for the period when flu infections become more common, usually between fall and spring, with peak activity between December and February.
Why Is the Flu Shot Different Every Year?
Viruses are tricky for the medical community because of their constant ability to change and evolve. The flu virus is no exception. This keeps scientists on their toes, always looking to identify which strains will cause problems in any given year. This is why the flu vaccine is different every year and why it’s so important to get vaccinated every year.
This year, the medical community has identified four viruses that are likely to affect humans. These include two Influenza A viruses, an H1N1 strain and an H3N2 strain. These Influenza A “swine flu” strains spread from animals to people and tend to be more severe and of more concern to doctors and scientists. According to the National Institutes of Health, Influenza A viruses account for around 75 percent of flu infections. Many of us remember the H1N1 virus made its debut in 2009, causing the first flu pandemic in decades, while the H3N3 strain dominated during the 2017-2018 flu season.
This year’s flu vaccine also contains two Influenza B strains. Influenza B is found only in humans and tends to have milder symptoms. However, it can also cause big problems, especially in young children. According to the NIH, between 22 and 44 percent of pediatric flu deaths are caused by type B viruses.
Can I Still Get the Flu If I’ve Been Vaccinated?
Since the virus strains that will cause infections in any year can be hard to pinpoint, there’s still a chance you can get the flu even if you’ve had your shot. However, research shows that getting vaccinated can reduce the severity of flu symptoms even if you’re affected by a different strain than the ones in the vaccine.
How Can I Prevent the Flu?
Getting your flu shot is the best way to avoid getting the flu. Parents should also vaccinate their children every year, and we should also remind the seniors in our lives to get their shots. Mindful hand washing and staying home when you are sick are also important ways to help prevent the spread of flu viruses.
Who Should Get A Flu Shot?
The short answer is pretty much everyone. Except for rare cases, everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu. Young children and the elderly are often most at risk for serious complications, but healthy adults can also be more vulnerable than they realize so it’s important not to put off your vaccine. Seniors often have weaker immune systems, so a special high-dose vaccine is available for people 65 and older. And while some life-threatening allergies or underlying conditions can rule out the flu shot, these situations are very uncommon. In most cases, even people with egg allergies can get vaccinated. Talk with your primary care provider if you have questions or concerns about flu vaccine ingredients.
Can Antiviral Medication Help If I Have the Flu?
There are four antiviral medications recommended by the CDC to treat flu infections. These medicines aren’t a cure but can help reduce complications from infection. These include the well-known drug Tamiflu, along with a new single-dose Baloxavir for adults and older children. Doctors usually recommend antivirals for confirmed or suspected flu for people with underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease. The important thing to remember about antivirals is that they work best if they’re administered early. If you have an underlying condition and think you may have the flu, see your primary care doctor right away.
Fighting the Flu with Your Primary Care Provider
At Comprehensive Primary Care, our goal is always to keep our patients healthy, from 6 weeks to 66 and beyond. While many adults don’t think about routine vaccinations, this is one of the most important things you can do to take care of yourself. Even a healthy adult can be sidelined for weeks with a bout of flu, and the consequences can be even worse in more serious cases. With the flu virus already starting to make headlines around the country and with peak season just around the corner, now is the time to get your flu shot. Comprehensive Primary Care welcomes you to walk in, with no appointment, to get your flu shot at any of our locations during regular hours.