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What to expect: Flu season 2016

10/17/2016

Fever. Chills. Cough.  Most of us have been invaded by the symptoms of the flu at one point or another in our lives. 

What are the chances that influenza will hit you and your family this year?

“Five to twenty percent of the U.S. population gets the flu annually, tens of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die,” says Shira Doron, MD, Associate Hospital Epidemiologist in the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center. “It is difficult to predict exactly how bad flu season will be as it depends on a number of factors.  That’s why it’s essential we all get vaccinated.”

Among those factors – how well scientists predicted which strains of the influenza virus will be active in the United States. Each year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chooses three to four flu strains (out of the dozens of strains of influenza) to include in the vaccine, based on surveillance of the illness around the world. If the vaccine includes the same viruses that are circulation and making people sick, the vaccine can be 50-60 percent effective in preventing influenza.

The impact of flu in any given year depends on who gets vaccinated

“If we hit the mark with the vaccine but no one gets the flu shot, we’ve lost out on our number one way to prevent the spread of the illness,” says Dr. Doron.  She notes that the vaccine also works best among healthy adults and older children. While some older people and those with certain chronic illnesses might not get as great of a benefit, it’s still important for them to get immunized annually, especially since they are at a higher risk of life-threatening complications.

Recommendations regarding the flu shot and nasal spray

One new twist this year is that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is not recommending the nasal mist form of the vaccine. That means everyone, young and old, needs to have the shot.

“The CDC has determined that the nasal spray just hasn’t been as effective as the flu shot,” said Dr. Doron. “Don’t let this keep you or your kids from getting vaccinated. It takes just a minute to administer.”

Also this year, the recommendations for people with egg allergies have changed. Previously, anyone with an egg allergy needed to be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine. This year, the CDC says that’s not necessary, but that those with severe egg allergies (symptoms other than hives) can be given the vaccine in a medical setting, by a provider who can watch for the signs of a severe reaction.

Dr. Doron says as with most years, the sooner you get the vaccine, the better. It takes at least two weeks for it to be effective and flu season can start as early as October.

“Even if you got one in January or February of this year, you need a new one to be protected against this year’s strains,” said Dr. Doron, adding, “If you are reading this and you have not received your flu shot, call your doctor’s office or pharmacy and get it done.”

The above content is provided for educational purposes by Tufts Medical Center. For information about your own health, contact your physician.