In addition to getting vaccinated, avoid spreading the flu virus by:
• Staying home when you are sick
• Covering coughs and sneezes
• Washing your hands
Getting a flu vaccination:
• Can keep you from getting sick with the flu
• Helps protect people around you who are at risk from the flu and its serious complications
• May make your illness milder even if you do get sick
Barton County Health Director Shelly Schneider wants to get two messages out regarding flu vaccinations.
First, the version of the vaccine administered this year is effective, despite reports it fails to protect against all the flu strains making Americans ill.
“There’s been a lot of talk that they don’t match up,” she said. But, the vaccine can even protect against some of the complications of the “wild strain” of flu.
Second, it’s not too late to vaccinate. And, there is plenty of vaccine still available.
“It’s still important to get your flu vaccine,” she said. Although not common yet, “influenza is in the community,” and area health care providers are reporting cases.
This is particularly crucial for children and the elderly, she said. These folks are more susceptible to getting sick.
Adding to the concern is that kids under six months of age cannot be vaccinated. This increases the importance of adults getting their shots to help protect the them.
The ‘wild strain’
Why the worry about the vaccine working?
The Centers for Disease and the United Nations’ World Health Organization make their annual predictions for the North American flu season in February to give pharmaceutical companies time to ramp up production of that formula. In March, a variant of the virus CDC and WHO had targeted also began to appear, the CDC reported.
But by then, it was too late to include the variant in vaccines. Now, “roughly half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed are drift variants,” CDC said in a statement last week. The current vaccinations still offer some protection, but they will be less effective against this altered strain.
Compounding the problem: H3N2 strains tend to be particularly harsh among older populations.
However, there are some similarities between the wild strain and those included in the vaccination. So, the shot has been found to provide some protection against drifted viruses, the CDC said.
Though reduced, this cross-protection might reduce the likelihood of severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death.
“This means that even though the strain has drifted from what the CDC expected, you will still have some coverage against other strains that are still present,” Schneider said. “Bottom line, some protection is better than none.”
A time for sharing
Along this line, with flu activity increasing and family and friends gathering for the holidays, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment urges all Kansans to receive an annual flu vaccination.
“Getting a flu vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself and those who are at high risk,” said Susan Mosier, KDHE secretary and state health officer. “Flu season is here and before it becomes widespread, take the opportunity to get your vaccine now.”
This marks National Influenza Vaccination Week which serves as a reminder that all of us have a responsibility to prevent the spread of influenza, or the “flu.” In the U.S., flu activity usually begins in October.
Kansas has identified two different types of influenza viruses currently circulating, and, based on data from the Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet), flu activity is currently minimal within the state, the KDHE reported. However, flu activity usually increases at this time of year, peaks in January or February, and can last as late as May.
On average, five to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu yearly, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with complications of flu. During the peak of the 2013-2014 influenza season in Kansas, approximately six percent of all health care visits in ILINet clinics were due to influenza-like illness.
Influenza or pneumonia contributed to or was the direct cause of 1,135 deaths among Kansas residents during the 2013-2014 influenza season. Influenza and pneumonia was the seventh leading cause of death in 2013 in Kansas.
Nearly everyone six months and older is recommended to receive a flu vaccine every year, Schneider said. Vaccination is especially important for protecting those at high risk for serious complications, including young children, pregnant women, adults 65 years and older, and anyone with chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes.
Those caring for, or in regular contact with, an infant less than six months of age should also be immunized. At this age, babies are too young to be vaccinated and are more vulnerable to complications from influenza.
“If one is at high risk for serious complications of flu and develop symptoms, they should contact their health care provider immediately,” Schneider said. Treatment with prescription antiviral medication can shorten the illness and reduce the risk of complications.
Visit www.kdheks.gov/flu for more flu facts.