Influenza (“Flu”) activity is currently low in the United States and Idaho, but is expected to increase in the coming weeks with holiday travel and family get-togethers just around the corner. We are already seeing some positive flu tests across the state.
“With the holidays approaching, this is the perfect time to protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated against the flu,” says Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, the state’s influenza surveillance coordinator. “We don’t want to see people’s holidays ruined because of flu illnesses that are easily preventable. A flu vaccination today offers protection throughout this year’s flu season.”
Vaccination is the best protection against influenza and is recommended for everyone over the age of six months. Infants younger than six months are too young to be vaccinated, but are at high risk for flu complications. All family members can help protect them by getting vaccinated. People most at risk are adults over the age of 65, pregnant women, and children younger than 5, especially toddlers. Children under the age of 8 years who receive the vaccine for the first time will need two vaccines scheduled four weeks apart for maximum protection.
Influenza seasons are unpredictable, but generally occur between November and April. Last year’s season saw a slight increase over the holidays, but then peaked in late February and early March. Two years ago, flu cases peaked in late December. Over the last six years, Idaho has averaged 22 flu-related deaths reported per year, with 26 deaths reported last year.
It takes about two weeks for a complete immune response to the vaccine, so getting vaccinated well before flu season really gets going is the best way to protect yourself. There is plenty of vaccine available at pharmacies or through your healthcare provider. This year’s supply does not include a nasal spray, which had been a favorite for some children and adults less than 50 years of age. Recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the nasal spray vaccines were not as effective in recent years in preventing the flu compared with the flu shot.
Options for vaccination this year include a quadrivalent vaccine, which offers protection from four strains of flu instead of the traditional three strain vaccine, and a vaccine that is injected under the skin and not into the muscle.
For people over the age of 65, there are even more options. During most flu seasons, people 65 and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease because their immune response systems weaken with age. Seniors may want to consider a high-dose vaccine that contains 4 times the amount of antigen to create a stronger immune response and greater protection. There also is a vaccine, FLUAD™, that adds an ingredient to help create a stronger immune response. It is estimated that 50 to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 and older, with an even higher percentage suffering flu-related deaths.
Along with the vaccine, Tengelsen advises people to follow these recommendations to protect themselves and others:
- Cover your cough with a tissue or sleeve.
- Wash your hands often, especially after you’ve been in public places.
- Stay home from work if you are sick.
- Travel only when you are feeling well. If you have flu symptoms, wait to travel until at least 24 hours after you are fever free without the use of fever-reducing medication.