Influenza activity in the U.S. is on the rise, according to the weekly report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York City and nine states (Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Carolina) experienced high influenza-like activity in late December.
The highest hospitalization rate for flu-like illnesses is among children younger than 5 years old. Four influenza-related pediatric deaths were reported to the CDC in late December, and a total of 11 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported for the 2018-2019 flu season.
The 2017-2018 flu season was a high-severity season, with 185 pediatric deaths reported to the CDC. About 80 percent of those deaths last year occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination.
Should you get the flu vaccine?
The current CDC recommendations advise annual influenza vaccination for everyone older than 6 months, who does not have a medical condition that would prohibit them from vaccination (such as an allergy, compromised immune system and more.)
It's important to note that the flu shot can't and won't give you flu. While some people may experience arm soreness, slight fatigue or a headache after getting the shot, those are the few noted side effects.
According to the CDC, it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop to provide protection against the flu. While it's important to get vaccinated in October, before flu season starts, it's never too late to get vaccinated.
How effective is the flu vaccine this year?
While there are no current estimates on how effective this year's flu vaccine is, recent studies have shown that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 and 60 percent among the overall population, when the circulating flu viruses are well matched to the vaccine.
"It's way too early to tell how effective this year's vaccine is," explained Michael Osterholm, a professor of environmental health sciences at University of Minnesota.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't get the shot. The CDC offers a list of benefits to vaccination. The shot:
- Prevents you from getting sick
- Reduces the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults and older adults
- Is a preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions
- Protects women during pregnancy
- Reduces the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated, but still get sick
- Helps to protect people around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies, young kids, elderly and people with health conditions
How can you prevent getting the flu?
According to the CDC, getting the flu vaccine every year (as early as you can), is the best way to prevent becoming ill with the flu. In addition to getting a flu shot, people should take measures to protect themselves by covering their coughs, washing hands often and thoroughly and avoiding people who are sick. Also, try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
The flu is different from a cold, and frequently comes on suddenly. Here are a few symptoms to be aware of:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches or headaches
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, visit the doctor and then stay home to prevent spreading your illness to others.
Remember, it's never too late to get your flu shot.
"Now's a great time, go get it today," said Osterholm.