An update on Idaho’s flu season

Idaho’s flu season typically lasts from October through May, and the Department of Health and Welfare has received reports of 57 flu-related deaths this season. That makes it the third most severe flu season in a decade. Idaho typically sees an average of 22 flu-related deaths each season. Now that this season is winding down, I encourage all Idahoans to plan now to get an annual flu vaccine in the fall. We would love to see an increase in the percentage of Americans who get the flu vaccine each year because that means fewer people will require hospitalization from flu complications.

How does the seasonal flu vaccine, which is not 100 percent effective, help us avoid getting the flu?

The flu vaccine works! It reduces your risk of getting the flu, and even more critically, it reduces your risk of landing in the hospital with complications from the flu. This is especially important for people at high risk of getting very sick — for example, children with asthma, adults with heart disease, and elderly people. Just over 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized for flu-related complications every season, on average.

Do you have to get it every year?

Yes, because immunity decreases over time, and because the viruses in your community are always changing. Flu infects anywhere from 5-20 percent of the population every year.

Will the next flu vaccine will be a good match for the circulating viruses next season?

Flu is unpredictable, so it’s impossible to say for sure. I can tell you that experts have evaluated the influenza viruses making people sick in other parts of the world, and they have already chosen the strains for the next vaccine so it can be produced in time for the next season.

Is it possible to get the flu from a vaccine? 

This is something we hear every year, so I’m glad you ask that question. It’s not possible to get the flu from the vaccine. Flu vaccine contains dead or very weakened virus that is not capable of making you sick.

What about those people who get the vaccine, and then they get the flu? What’s going on there?

If you wait to get the vaccine until people start getting sick, then you run a higher risk of getting the flu because it takes about two weeks for your immune system to fully respond to the vaccine. If you get exposed before the vaccine has time to go to work, you will probably get sick with the flu! That’s why we encourage people to get the vaccine in September or October, before the season really gets going. You could also become infected with a strain of flu virus that isn’t covered by the vaccine. The vaccine reduces your risk for illness; it doesn’t eliminate it. If you have concerns about the flu vaccine, you should discuss those with your medical provider, but your best protection against flu is an annual vaccine.

(Note: A Close Look At Your Health airs most Tuesdays at 6:50 a.m. on KBOI News Radio 670. This is a slightly edited transcript of the segment from May 28.) 

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