With the official start of winter a week away, temperatures have plunged. And, we all know that cold weather and influenza go hand in hand.
“The flu is on the rise, and this is both A and B strains,” said Barton County Health Director Shelly Schneider. Bearing this in mind, she said its not too late to get a flu shot and there is plenty of vaccine available.
The Center for Disease Control reports flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. In fact, they may start as early as October and in some cases, continue through May.
During 2015, approximately 36,000 Americans died from flu complications, while an additional 200,000 sought hospitalization. This resulted in an annual cost to the nation’s economy of $80 billion.
Some flu viruses are severe enough to require hospitalization. Flu viruses can also be life threatening if patients have other chronic illnesses.
“This year, the flu shot is recommended for everyone,” Schneider said. “There are no restrictions. Everybody has access to it.”
Schneider said caregivers of infants less than 6 months of age, and anyone with a loved one who has a high risk of complications due to influenza, should especially get their flu shots. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of developing flu complications, and their close contacts.
According to information provided by Ken Johnson, president of the Hutchinson Regional Health Care Center, diabetics run the risk of high blood sugar levels suppressing the immune systems which can lead to severe flu symptoms. Asthma patients have a higher risk of pneumonia, acute bronchitis, and respiratory distress syndrome during the flu season.
Patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer have a reduced ability to fight off infections, so cancer patients experiencing flu symptoms should contact their physician immediately.
Normally, it takes as long as two weeks after getting the shot before you are protected from the vaccine.
“This year, we’ve matched up the flu vaccine pretty well with the strains going around,” Schneider said.
In 2014, the vaccine “missed the mark,” Schneider said and there was a huge spike in influenza cases. “We hope history doesn’t repeat itself.”
In addition to the flu, there is more pneumonia going around, she said. “Influenza is a gateway to pneumonia.”
Pneumonia is an increased threat for someone whose system is weakened and compromised by illness, she said.
Also this year, Schneider said they had an increased push to get residents vaccinated. The Health Department added hours and held outreach clinics around the county.
Harvard Health Publications, an entity of Harvard Medical School, recently published a list of “flu myths,” Johnson said.
One myth says people may actually catch the flu as a result of the vaccine, which is not true according to the list.
Others claim that an annual shot is all someone needs as a protection from the flu virus, which may not be accurate. Those who take the flu shot should also avoid contact with others who have flu symptoms and wash their hands several times each day as a precaution.
Harvard Health Publications states that as many as 30 percent of people carrying the virus aren’t experiencing flu symptoms.
While some feel annual flu shots are not necessary, Harvard Health Publications states otherwise, and points out the virus changes and mutates annually.
Health officials forecast in the spring what flu varieties will be prevalent come fall, making an educated guess on what to include in that year’s vaccine. This is to allow for manufacturers to ramp up production.