It’s flu season, no doubt about it, with widespread influenza infections all over the United States (see the CDC updated maps with high-levels of ILI [Influenza-like illness]). Influenza is a virus (there are many types or “strains”) that cause terrible fever, cough, respiratory distress, pneumonia, ear infections, and sometimes hospitalization and death. As you’ve likely heard from the media blitz the last week or so, it’s shaping up to be a pretty nasty year – and some public health workers are concerned not only about this surge or “peak” of flu season coming early, but that it may be bigger and more dangerous than we expected. Washington is still bracing (we have lower levels) but many areas are inundated and hospitals and ERs are full. Any Google search on “flu” will give you headlines like this: Hospitals Face a War Zone, Flu Season is Bad But Might Get Worse (which is true, it might), and this with the data update this week: Flu Season Has Killed 30 Children (which is also true and dreadful).

5 Simple Things To Do During Flu Season To Help Your Family

  • Flu shot: The best bet you have to increase your protection from influenza at this point is to get immunized with a flu shot if you haven’t already, and also do so for your entire family. 10 Things To Know About 2017-2018 Flu Shots.The flu shot has proved to be effective at reducing risk of death from influenza.
  • Stay home: Stay away from others when ill and insist others in your life do so, too. If we all actually stop working and coughing around dozens of others, infections may cease to spread like they are.
  • Protect vulnerable people: Babies and children under age 5 years, those over age 65 years, pregnant moms, those with chronic lung problems like asthma, those with chronic disease like diabetes, or those in long-term care by not visiting them when you have a cold or even just the sniffles. Minimize your contact with vulnerable populations (young children and adults over 65) in hospitals or long-term care settings. Teach kids to cough into their elbows. Seriously.
  • Know about flu shot statistics and effectiveness overall: Flu vaccine is recommended because it helps prevent death (in infants, pregnant moms, high-risk individuals, etc). If you haven’t gone to get a flu shot, go get one — it’s clearly NOT too late and don’t use imperfection reports as an excuse not to gain some protection. If you haven’t gotten your children (6 months of age and older) immunized, get them an appointment today. The vaccine will likely help ease the severity and duration of symptoms if you or your family come down with the flu, if it doesn’t prevent it all-together. Each year flu vaccine is effective at preventing influenza infections in about 50-60% of those who get it. That is far better than the 0% protection you get when un-immunized.
  • Know the flu shot “recipe” matches this year’s circulating strains: This year the majority of influenza that people are coming down with is from Influenza A strains: the H3N2 strain accounts for about 85% of infections currently and then H1N1 strain is about 8-10% of laboratory-confirmed influenza. The rest is some Influenza B strains and a smattering of other A strains. This year’s flu vaccine has H3N2 and H1N1 strains! That’s great but vaccine effectiveness (how well the vaccine components protect against the actual disease) matters, too. Sometimes the strains circulating in the community mutate so they are a bit different from the same strain/pieces of virus used in the vaccine. Here’s a GREAT explanation about why H3N2, even when in the shot, can change more than other strains, and sometimes isn’t as protective. Many media sites covered the concern that the flu shot in Australia didn’t work that well for H3N2 this year. It’s too early to know the numbers for our vaccine effectiveness yet for this season, but public health officials are hopeful it will be as effective as last year for H3N2 when it was about 30% effective.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) should have vaccine efficacy data to report toward the end of February. In the meantime, smart thermometers like Kinsa help track influenza and fever trends. The real win may come when they connect back to a community’s schools & doctors. That’s when perhaps we’ll find a way to use technology to change how people stay home, get vaccinated, & stop flu spread.

Flu is everywhere in the US right now. This is the first year we’ve had the entire continental US at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time. It has been an early flu season that seems to be peaking now, he said, with a 5.8% increase in laboratory-confirmed cases this week over last.” ~Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza branch

The CDC created an interactive map that lets you see how the virus is progressing across the country by tracking activity estimates in each state. Press play to see the progression.

Helpful Resources