As Minnesota’s flu season climbs toward its peak, health officials are reminding Minnesotans that it’s not too late to get their flu vaccine. Vaccination is the best way to prevent flu and lessen its serious effects.
Weekly flu data released today show a continued increase in flu activity across Minnesota. As of the week ending Jan. 6, 2018, there have been 1,765 flu-related hospitalizations, 55 outbreaks of influenza-like illness (ILI) in long-term care facilities, 43 outbreaks of ILI in schools and one pediatric flu death this flu season. All these indicators point to a potentially severe flu season, and health officials say we may not have seen the peak of the season yet.
“Now is the time to get your flu vaccine if you have not already,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health. “Even otherwise-healthy people can become very sick from flu, and we still have a lot of flu season left. Flu can easily circulate through April and beyond.”
The main flu strain circulating so far this season in Minnesota and the U.S. is influenza A (H3N2). Flu seasons with H3N2 as the dominant strain have been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in adults 65 years and older and young children compared to other age groups. It is very important for young children, older adults and others at high risk for complications from flu to get vaccinated. People at higher risk for flu complications include pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, asthma or heart disease.
“Rumors that the flu vaccine is not effective this year are misleading,” said Ehresmann. “It is too early for us to know what the flu vaccine effectiveness is for the U.S., and we can’t make predictions based on what happened in other countries like Australia because it’s not an equal comparison.”
Ehresmann noted that even in a perfectly matched year, the vaccine will not prevent every case of flu. However, more people being vaccinated means more protection in the community so the spread of flu can be limited. There is also evidence that people who are vaccinated have less-severe illness. Recently published studies found that people vaccinated against the flu are less likely to have serious complications that could put them in the hospital.
National early-season flu vaccination rates released in November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that only 39 percent of people 6 months and older had received their flu vaccine. These estimates show a large portion of the population could be vulnerable to flu as activity continues to increase across the country.
The symptoms of flu, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with flu-like symptoms should seek medical care.
People at high risk for complications from flu should contact their health care provider right away if they have symptoms of flu. Antiviral medications should be prescribed to all hospitalized, severely ill and high-risk patients with confirmed or suspected flu. These drugs work best when treatment is started within two days of symptoms starting but may still be helpful after that time. Both CDC and MDH have notified medical providers of the importance of prescribing antivirals during this flu season.
Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. You can find a flu vaccine clinic near you at mdhflu.com (select “Vaccine Clinic Look-Up”). Flu vaccine also may be given at other locations and times not listed. Check with your doctor’s office, regular walk-in clinic or pharmacy about getting vaccinated against the flu.
Flu vaccines are covered by most insurance plans. If you don’t have insurance, the Minnesota Vaccines for Children program and the Uninsured and Underinsured Adult Vaccine program provide free or low-cost vaccines.
Along with vaccination, health officials remind Minnesotans to prevent the spread of flu and other illnesses by:
- Covering your cough and sneeze.
- Staying home if you are ill.
- Washing your hands often.
For more information on flu, go to www.mdhflu.com.
Photo Credit: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune