Friday, September 16, 2016

Scattered Early Reports of Seasonal Flu


Last year's H1N1-centric flu season not only arrived very late, it was one of the mildest in years - at least in North America. The same cannot be said for Russia and many Eastern European countries.

In early February, Russia's  Rospotrebnadzor described their flu epidemic as `still rising', and they reported 11,470 schools, 2,298 kindergartens, 578 colleges,72 universities completely closed due to the epidemic. 

Last month Russia began an intensive vaccination campaign (see Russia Gears Up To Fight Flu) in anticipation of another bad year, but in truth, we never quite know how a flu season will pan out.

This year there are early signs suggesting that H3N2 might be this season's predominant strain. H3N2 flu seasons tend to be more severe than H1N1 seasons, particularly for the elderly and very young.

H3N2 is also the most genetically diverse seasonal flu subtype, and in recent years has seen reduced vaccine effectiveness (see Branswell: H3N2 Remains the `Weak Link’ In The Flu Vaccine).

While it is still mid-September, and flu season doesn't usually get started for another month or two, over the past week we've already seen scattered reports of flu around the country.

Yesterday the Kentucky State Department of Health issued the following alert:

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) received reports of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases, indicating the presence of flu circulating in Kentucky. The cases are from Bullitt, Fayette and Jefferson counties.
Beginning in October, DPH officials will begin to report weekly influenza activity to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of statewide flu surveillance efforts.
The flu season in Kentucky may be starting early this year, as the flu season typically begins in October or November.
Adequate supplies of flu vaccine are expected to be available for this year’s season. Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season.
      (Continue . . . )

Similar reports are also coming in from Midland, Texas:
Cold and Flu Season Arrives a Few Weeks Early

Macon, Georgia:
Doctors see pediatric flu patients early in the season

And South Carolina:

None of this tells us what kind of flu season lies ahead, but an early and robust flu season cannot be ruled out.

Although the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine can vary from year to year, last year the CDC estimated it was nearly 50% effective in preventing the flu (see Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness, 2005-2016).

While hardly spectacular, a 50% reduction in the odds of getting the flu is still nothing to sneeze at.  And there is evidence to suggest that even if your shot doesn't prevent the flu, it make make your illness less severe.

As an added bonus, in recent years we've seen studies suggesting the flu jab may also provide significant protection against coronary events (see UNSW: Flu Vaccine Provides Significant Protection Against Heart Attacks).

Although there is some controversy over when you should get the flu vaccine - and how long the protection lasts - the CDC recommends:

When should I get vaccinated?

CDC recommends that people get vaccinated against flu soon after vaccine becomes available, if possible by October. CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination as long as influenza viruses are circulating.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.
Doctors and nurses are encouraged to begin vaccinating their patients soon after vaccine becomes available, preferably by October so as not to miss opportunities to vaccinate. Those children aged 6 months through 8 years who need two doses of vaccine should receive the first dose as soon as possible to allow time to get the second dose before the start of flu season. The two doses should be given at least four weeks apart.

I get my shot every year, and urge others to consider doing so as well (see #NatlPrep: Giving Preparedness A Shot In The Arm).
Normally I might wait until early October to get my flu jab, but with early reports of flu in the South, and knowing I have a couple of dental appointments coming up where I'll be in crowded waiting rooms, this year I'm opting to get my flu shot early. 

While the vaccine can’t promise 100% protection, it – along with practicing good flu hygiene (washing hands, covering coughs, & staying home if sick) – remains your best strategy for avoiding the flu and staying healthy this winter.

No comments: