Rashid A. Chotani: Please get your flu shot now
As summer comes to a close and back-to-school season is underway whether in-person, virtual or a combination, it is clear that this year’s influenza vaccine could be the most important yet. That is because of the unknown: What if you would get influenza paired with COVID-19?
Both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses that present with similar symptoms. Both viruses can impact the elderly and those with certain chronic conditions, such as heart and lung disease, the hardest. Initial estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that last year’s flu season (2019-2020) included somewhere between 39-56 million flu illnesses, 18-26 million flu-related medical visits, 24,000 and 62,000 deaths, and 410,000-740,000 hospitalizations across the country. Based on what we are seeing in the Southern Hemisphere, and with the U.S. population taking precautions for COVID-19, this year’s flu burden may be moderate. However, with no COVID-19 vaccine in place and the case-count baseline still very high and going up, this fall season a high or moderate flu outbreak could overwhelm our healthcare system and create new shortages of hospital beds and personal protective equipment.
Usually flu vaccines are on average 50 percent effective in preventing infection by the main strains of influenza virus expected to be circulating in the country in the coming flu season, usually
November/December to April/May. Flu vaccines are administered annually for two main reasons:
- flu viruses mutate readily, and the mix of viral strains varies from year to year, and
- even if the viruses don’t change significantly, immunity against them gradually wanes and may be all but gone by the next flu season.
Even if the flu vaccine developed this year provides only 50 percent protection it is better than “zero” protection. Once you receive the vaccine it takes two weeks for your body to develop antibodies that provide protection. Thus, you are vulnerable during this time. Make plans to get vaccinated now, during early fall, before flu season is underway. The immunity against influenza after vaccination or if you acquire the disease goes down over time. For individuals who get vaccinated the immunity generally lasts for at least five to six months. So, getting vaccinated late September or early October you should be protected up to the end of March-April 2021.
The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, this year getting the vaccine late September or early October will help provide the best protection as the flu increases in October and later in the season. Controlling the flu outbreak early will decrease the burden on the healthcare system and allow the healthcare community to deal with COVID19 more effectively.
So… please consider getting your flu shot now. If we can control the flu outbreak before it starts, as a nation we will be in better shape by ensuring personal, family, and community protection.
In addition, here are some Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu, from the CDC:
- Avoid close contact, particularly with those who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick and keep your distance from others. So, no work, no school, and no errands.
- Cover your mouth and nose and use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu and other respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and COVID-19, are spread by droplets sent into the air by coughing and sneezing.
- Clean your hands. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
For more information, please see:
- CDC Flu Site: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm
- Flu Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/index.html
Dr. Rashid Chotani established the Global Infectious Disease Surveillance and Alert System (GIDSA) at Johns Hopkins University and is a member of (APPNA) Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America.