This winter is expected to be a severe flu season:
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that flu cases are already rising to high levels in the U.S.
• Flu virus is headed here from the southern hemisphere. Australia already has a very severe flu season
• Isolation and other measures to prevent COVID-19 has kept the flu season low for the last few years, so a lot of people are not protected by the usual previous year’s infections.
• Only 49 percent of North Americans plan to get a flu shot during the 2022-2023 flu season, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), and 20 percent of people at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications are not planning to get vaccinated. Lack of immunizations means that you are likely to have greater exposure to the flu virus this winter. Some people refuse to get the flu immunizations because of bad publicity about side effects from COVID-19 vaccines.
You need to get the flu vaccine each year because last year’s vaccine offers little protection in the current year. Flu viruses mutate frequently and each year’s strain has a different structure than the virus that appeared the previous year. However, all flu viruses do share some of the same surface proteins, so infection or vaccination with one flu virus can help reduce the severity of infection with a different strain of flu.
The current flu vaccine should help to protect you as the CDC reports that most of the viruses causing flu this fall are the same as those in the current vaccine, with 78 percent influenza A(H3N2) and 22 percent influenza A(H1N1).
The CDC predicts a severe flu season because:
• More than six percent of all outpatient doctor visits in November were for flu or flu-like illness. The November numbers are the highest recorded since 2009.
• So far this fall, the flu has caused at least 6.2 million illnesses, 53,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 deaths.
• Flu deaths include 12 reported in children, and children ages 0-4 had a higher proportion of visits for flu-like illness.
• The cumulative hospitalization rate of 11.3 per 100,000 population “is higher than the rate observed in the corresponding week of every previous season since 2010-2011.”
• Adults 65 years and older have the highest cumulative hospitalization rate, 25.9 per 100,000, compared with 20.7 for children 0-4; 11.1 for adults 50-64; 10.3 for children 5-17; and 5.6 for adults 18-49 years old.
I think that everyone over six months of age should be immunized for the flu, with few exceptions. You are at increased risk for complications of flu if you have other serious conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or organ damage, or if you are over age 65. It takes at least two weeks for the flu vaccine to protect you.
People who are over 65 and those with impaired immune systems should get the new super-potent vaccines available this year: Fluzone High-Dose and Flublok, which contain higher doses of the vaccine, or Fluad Adjuvanted, which contains an ingredient to boost immune response.