Flu season is fast approaching, and it could be a nasty one.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 8 percent of Americans are sickened by the flu each year and that thousands die from the flu and related illnesses. The CDC doesn’t like to forecast whether the coming season will be relatively harsh or not, but the agency says the impact will be lessened greatly if people get vaccinated — and soonest is best.
The season generally starts in October and peaks in February before winding down with spring.
“Now is the best time to get your flu shot,” CDC press officer Scott Pauley told USA TODAY. “You want to get it before the season really starts.”
In Australia, the flu season is winding down. Ogbonnaya Omenka, an associate professor and public health specialist at Butler University, says the number of confirmed flu cases there was the highest in history — more than 270,000, compared to almost 60,000 in 2018.
That may not bode well for the U.S., he says.
“It definitely is concerning because the U.S. flu season comes after Australia’s,” he said. He added that a U.S. child who tested positive for influenza died earlier this month.
Cameron Kaiser, public health officer in Riverside County, California, called the death of a 4-year-old boy from Perris a tragic reminder of how deadly influenza can be.
“We should never forget that the flu still kills,” Kaiser said. “I always recommend people get their flu shots every year, but a death so early in the flu season suggests this year may be worse than usual.”
Not all providers have stocked the vaccine, however. There are many different flu viruses and they are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated to match the nasty flu viruses the nation is expected to see. Flu vaccines normally protect against three or four viruses.
The World Health Organization chose most of the components for Northern Hemisphere flu vaccines on Feb. 21 but didn’t finish the list until late March. Thus not all providers have the shots available quite yet.
“It’s an estimation game,” Pauley said. “What strains are most likely to hit? What are we seeing around the world? The goal is to get ahead of the curve. It can be tricky.”
CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. Not everyone agrees. Many parents are skeptical, some even believing the shots can cause the flu.
And Jennifer Margulis, science writer and co-author of “The Vaccine-Friendly Plan,” says a flu vaccine every year may lessen the shot’s value. She cites a Canadian study of the 2014-15 influenza season there.
The study indicated that season’s flu vaccines performed unusually poorly overall and that people who had not been vaccinated the previous year were most likely to benefit from the vaccine. Those who were vaccinated two years in a row did not fare as well, according to the study.
“I think it’s an excellent idea to urge people to be healthy during the flu season,” Margulis said. “The money given to the CDC to promote vaccination is a large reason why they focus on this for-profit pharmaceutical and not on other scientifically proven and more evidence-based means to boost public health.”
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications.
Flu season starts soon
The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May. February generally sees the most cases.
Flu shot reactions
Mild side effects from the flu shot can include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever and aches, the CDC says.
Onset of symptoms
The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days but can range from about one to four days.
How long the flu is contagious
People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins, the CDC says. Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.
Flu vs. cold
The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu, the CDC says. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.
Where to get a flu shot
Almost anywhere, if they are available. CVS and Rite-Aid are among drug stores that say the shots are free with most insurance plans, no appointment necessary. Some supermarkets that have pharmacies, such as Safeway, also provide the shots. And, of course, doctors’ offices and medical clinics.
Read more at usatoday.com