It’s not too late for the flu vaccine!

Trying to find something not political in the news has been tough in the past week or so. And then I heard the headline on the news as I was getting ready for work: 8 children have died from influenza so far this 2016-2017 flu season: One in Mississippi, 2 in Florida (a 17 year old and a 7 year old!), 1 from South Carolina (a 16 year old!), 1 in California, and 3 of these deaths were last week in New York. I am emphasizing the ages in some of these since we tend to worry more about newborns, pregnant women, and old folks. No pediatric deaths in Wisconsin….yet…but we are definitely seeing a spike in clinic visits with flu-like symptoms.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and nasal congestion. It is caused by an influenza virus (there are 2 main types: Influenza A and Influenza B, however there are many subtypes within each type). While most people who become sick from influenza recover within a few days to weeks, serious complications are associated with the condition, including pneumonia, inflammation of heart or brain, or even multi-organ failure.

How does this flu season compare to other years? Click here for a great website that lets you look at data (and don’t we all love actual data?!). The flu bug typically begins to make the rounds in October and November each year. Usually, flu activity peaks between December and March and can last as late as May. At quick glance, it looks like this season may be peaking a little later than prior years, but will likely not be an easy one. Most states are reporting widespread flu activity at this time and hospitalization rates are steadily climbing.

How protective is the flu vaccine this year? Most of the tested viruses are covered by this year’s flu vaccine — greater than 96% of all antigenically characterized influenza A viruses and 95% of influenza B viruses were covered in the Northern Hemisphere vaccine. And more importantly, the vaccine may actually save lives. According to records, during the 2012-13 flu season, there were 271 pediatric deaths nationwide from influenza; 90% of children who died from the flu were not vaccinated. Click here for a map to see the vaccination rates for each state (Wisconsin has just below 60% of the pediatric population vaccinated against influenza).

Other than getting your flu shot (ahem, get your flu shot!), here are the other ways you can decrease the spread of influenza:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Cough into a tissue or your elbow instead of your hand. Then wash your hands again.
  • Stay home if you’re sick, until you’re fever-free without medicine for over 24 hours. And while you’re home, wash your hands. And when you return to school/work, wash your hands some more.
  • If you are having flu-like symptoms including high fever, check with you health care provider. If you do have influenza, there are medications that may help if seen within 48 hours of symptoms. And wash your hands.