“It’s still not to late to get a flu shot,” said Logan Boss, public information officer for Northwest Georgia Public Health. “The flu season this year arrived a little earlier than it has in probably the last 10 years and that, combined with having one of the main strains this season, a strain that is typically associated with worse than normal years, so what we’re seeing unfold across the county is not surprising.”
Boss said there was good news. The predominant strain for this season, the H3N2 strain, is one of the strains the vaccine is designed to fight.
“The good news is that the flu vaccine this year matches up very well with the H3N2 strain, so the flu vaccine can provide good protection against the flu,” he said.
While Boss believed the Bartow County Health Department was out of flu shots, he said doctor’s offices and retailers still had supplies of the vaccine.
“Many private physicians still have flu vaccine and most of the retailers, big box retailers, that have pharmacies — and of course the pharmacy chains themselves — should still have plenty of flu vaccine. It’s still out there [and] it’s not too late to get the flu shot,” he said.
Nurse Manager Cathy Green at the BCHD confirmed it was out of flu shots. To compensate, she said her staff has been contacting area clinics to determine who has vaccines available so they can provide the information to interested callers.
However, the vaccine by itself may not be enough to prevent sickness.
“People need to remember though, of all the vaccines we use in this country, the flu vaccine is one of the least effective. It will typically only protect 60 to 90 percent, or six to nine people out of 10, and that’s with healthy folks,” Boss said. “With the elderly and people who have underlying health conditions that’s even less.”
In a teleconference Friday, Jan. 11, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said this season’s vaccine had a 62 percent effectiveness rating. That rating, he said, was based on an effectiveness study conducted from 2011 to 2012.
“We found the overall vaccine effectiveness to be 62 percent. That means that if you got vaccinated you were about 60 percent less likely to get the flu that required you to go to your doctor,” Frieden said. “So what we’ve known for a long time is that the flu vaccine is far from perfect, but it’s still, by far, the best tool we have to prevent the flu.”
To create each season’s vaccine the CDC works with vaccine manufacturers to predict which strains will be the most active in the coming year. Boss described the work as an “educated guess” based on data from previous years. When the manufacturers and the CDC guess correctly, as they have this flu season, the vaccine is more effective. When the guess is incorrect, the vaccine does not work as well.
During the teleconference, Frieden recognized the guesswork nature of creating the vaccine.
“In terms of trends, it does vary in terms of how well the vaccine is matched to the circulating strain. Sometimes we don’t have a good match, and the vaccine effectiveness can be quite low because we’re vaccinating against strains that aren’t circulating,” he said.
In addition to the vaccine, Boss and the CDC asked people to practice the prevention methods to reduce the chance of catching the flu. Washing your hands often, covering your mouth or nose when you sneeze, using hand sanitizer and avoiding others who are sick are the best ways to stay healthy.
If infected, Boss said it was best to stay hydrated, rest and not go to work, school or church. Before returning to school or work you should be free of a fever without the use of a fever reducer such as Tylenol for at least 24 hours.
If you are caring for someone who is sick, keep them away from others as much as possible. They should stay away from common areas of the home and, if possible, use one bathroom in the house while others use a different bathroom. They should also use separate eating utensils and bedding, which should be cleaned thoroughly.
Flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish or having chills. However, not everyone with the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms include having a cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches and headaches and fatigue. Some may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but Boss noted this was more common in children than adults.
If a child displays rapid or labored breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough to maintain hydration, not waking up or interacting and irritability to the point that he or she does not want to be held, take the child to the pediatrician or emergency room.
For more information about seasonal flu, visit www.cdc.gov/flu.