Every year, around this time, I have been telling you that you should get vaccinated against influenza and this year is no exception. However, there are a couple of recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that I also want to tell you about.
The researchers suggest that receiving the “flu shot” reduces the risk for severe outcomes in adults by more than one-third, and the risk for hospitalization in children by half.
The CDC recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year. Since infants younger than 6 months cannot be vaccinated, it is important that anyone in a household where a young baby lives or visits get a flu shot to protect the child. Healthcare workers also are urged to get a flu vaccine to reduce their risk of transmitting illness to their patients.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against influenza to develop in the body, so the CDC recommends that vaccination be received by the end of October.
Flu shots can be obtained through primary care providers, many pharmacies and your county Health Department.
We are not talking about what people commonly call the “stomach flu”. Influenza is a virus that attacks the respiratory tract and is spread when infected people cough or sneeze nearby or when people touch surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus and then touch their eyes, mouth or nose.
Since the 2014-15 flu season, nearly 800 Hoosiers have died of flu-related illness. High-risk individuals include pregnant women, young children (especially those too young to get vaccinated), people with chronic illnesses, people who are immunocompromised and the elderly. It is especially important for these individuals to be vaccinated each year.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
• fever of 100 degrees or greater
• muscle aches
• sore throat
• runny or stuffy nose
People can help prevent the spread of influenza by washing their hands frequently and thoroughly, avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth with their hands and staying home when sick.
Please understand that no vaccine provides perfect protection. Although the vaccine might not always prevent illness, it likely will reduce severity and even prevent deaths.
One recent study looked at data on more than 40,000 adult patients who were hospitalized at some point over the course of five flu seasons ending in 2018 from more than 250 acute care hospitals in 13 states.
For H1N1 type influenza, they found that the risk for severe outcomes was 36% lower in patients who had been vaccinated than in those who had not. In addition, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) stays were shorter for patients who had been vaccinated. For patients 65 years and older, vaccination reduced the risk for ICU admission by 28% and the risk for mechanical ventilation by 46%.
For adult patients with the H3N2 virus or the B virus, there was no significant reduction in severe outcomes with vaccination.
Other researchers looked at the number of flu vaccinations in children with laboratory-confirmed influenza compared to the number of flu vaccinations in children who had not contracted influenza. They applied mathematical models adjusted for season, time of admission in relation to treatment, symptom onset, and season peak.
They looked at 3,630 children who were hospitalized with acute respiratory illness at one of seven pediatric medical centers over the course of two influenza seasons.
Children who were vaccinated were half as likely to be hospitalized with the flu compared to those who were not. Protection was 33% for H3N2 viruses, 76% for H1N1 viruses, and 59% for B viruses over the two seasons.
About 60% of the children hospitalized had an underlying medical condition, which means 40% were otherwise previously healthy children.
The CDC reports that only 45% of adults and 63% of children were vaccinated in the 2018/19 season. I hope that we can improve on those statistics and that you will help by getting your flu shot and encouraging others to do the same.