Is this Flu Season Cause for Worry?
The flu is widespread throughout Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nationwide, flu prevalence is also widespread—said to be the worst season in 15 years, when the CDC started keeping records. Up to 37 child deaths have been reported since the outbreak began, and about 12,000 people have wound up in the hospital, according to The Washington Post.
What makes this flu season different? Is it something to worry about? What can you do to protect yourself and your family? We asked Einstein infectious disease specialist Eric Sachinwalla, MD, for answers.
Q: The flu has been in the news a lot lately. There have been some high-profile deaths, and some hospitals in the hardest-hit areas, like California, have gone into disaster mode. Is this flu season more concerning than others?
Dr. Sachinwalla: This year’s flu season is not necessarily any more severe than prior years. The predominant strain according to the CDC is the H3N2 strain. In prior years, when this strain has been the predominant strain, it has been associated with more influenza related hospitalizations and death. In addition, vaccine effectiveness is generally lower against H3N2 viruses than other virus strains in the vaccine.
Q: Did authorities anticipate the H3N2 strain when they formulated this year’s shot, or is that hard to predict?
Dr. Sachinwalla: It’s very hard to predict what the predominant strain is going to be. This year’s vaccine does include a strain of H3N2, but vaccine effectiveness against this strain is typically lower than other strains.
Getting the flu shot is extremely important. Though it is not 100 percent effective, it does provide protection and people that get the vaccine usually do not have as severe a course as those that didn’t.
Q: If you have received your flu shot, is there cause for concern that it might not be protective? And if you haven’t received your shot, should you still?
Dr. Sachinwalla: The flu shot is not 100 percent effective, but some protection is better than none. Yes, definitely, there is still time to get the flu vaccine; it does provide protection and even if you get flu, the symptoms can be less severe if you’ve gotten the vaccine. The predominant strain does change over the course of a single season, so the flu shot can still provide protection for later parts of the flu season.
Q: Many people think the flu is innocuous. Why is it not?
Dr. Sachinwalla: For most people, the flu is a relatively short-term inconvenience. The illness typically lasts for about one week with full recovery; however, for some high-risk populations such as young children, especially those under 5, older adults, and those with underlying heart or lung disease, the infection can be very severe and lead to hospitalizations, intensive care, and potentially death.
Q: Aside from getting a flu shot, what can people do to guard against getting the flu?
Dr. Sachinwalla: Getting the flu shot is extremely important. Though it is not 100 percent effective, it does provide protection and people that get the vaccine usually do not have as severe a course as those that didn’t.
Aside from that, hand-washing is extremely important. The flu virus can live on surfaces, and so before eating or any contact with eyes, nose, or mouth, people should be washing their hands.
If a person does get sick, it is very important for them to not go to school or work. This greatly increases the chances of spreading the infection to others; it is better to stay home and take care of themselves. Using tissues to cover their mouth or coughing into their elbow is also helpful to prevent the spread of the virus in secretions.
Make an appointment for a flu shot with your Einstein primary care physician. Call 1-800-EINSTEIN. More information about Einstein Primary Care Services here.