Last year was a much better influenza season compared to the 2017-18 epidemic, causing record death and disease. There were improved influenza protections with the seasonal vaccines. As well, the viruses were not as virulent, which all may explain the milder season. The following is some disease information that you should be aware as we approach this year’s flu season.
Influenza is a respiratory infection that causes fever, cough, sore throat and nasal congestion. Additional symptoms include headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. Although these complaints sound similar to the symptoms of the common cold, the severity commonly is much worse. Not only can the intensity be serious enough to cause weeks of lost work or school, but the infectiousness can be so powerful as to infect the majority of a workplace or school from a single source. Influenza can cause complications which kills thousands of Americans every year, more commonly those with chronic health problems, the elderly and very young. However anyone can suffer a complication of this illness, sometimes requiring hospitalization with significant lost time from daily routines, or even resulting in death.
A severe outbreak may commonly last up to eight weeks regionally, and can often infect one out of every three people in a community. Hand washing and hygiene are always important, but the single best prevention of influenza is the seasonal immunization. Appropriate for almost everyone six months or older, it is especially important for those with any chronic disease such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart, kidney or liver disease, and any kind of cancer. Also, those who are overweight or 50 and older are at a significant risk as well.
The influenza immunization recommendation from the CDC for the 2019-2020 season again includes trivalent and quadrivalent injectable vaccines. This year vaccines have been updated to match the expected circulating viruses, and are most commonly provided as the inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) and the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV). The nasal spray / live flu vaccines (LAIV) are again available but may be limited. The CDC does recommend LAIV as an alternative choice for children who would not otherwise receive a conventional vaccine.
For those interested, the protections for this year’s likely infections are designed to include:
A/Brisbane/02/2018 (HINI) pdm09-like virus (changed from A/Michigan)
A/Kansas/14/2017 (H3N2)-like virus (changed from A/Singapore) and
B/Colorado/06/2017-like (Victoria lineage) virus (unchanged) in the trivalent vaccines.
B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus (unchanged) is added to quadrivalent.
Annual flu vaccines are commonly covered by most health insurance programs at no cost to patients. These immunizations are usually readily available at county health clinics, most retail pharmacies and many family doctor offices. Nobody knows when the flu will show up in the community, but is often seen as early as October. Of course, the sooner the administration, the more effective the immunization for the entire influenza season which may go well into the spring. It can take up to two full weeks to acquire immunity from the shot. Now is the time to prevent the flu! Immunize, and don’t let the flu get YOU!
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine