Winnike: One of the Worst Flu Seasons Still isn't Over
Originally published in the Houston Chronicle
Flu season arrived early and with a vengeance. We're confronted daily with saddening reports of how many people have died. In Texas, there have been 1,150 flu-related deaths reported between Oct. 1, 2017 and Jan. 12, 2018.
Flu vaccine rates in the United States are generally far short of where they should be. Usually, about half of Americans are vaccinated each year, but almost everyone ages six months and older should be.
Emergency departments and doctors' offices have been overwhelmed this month. And yet, people with little knowledge of how the flu vaccine works are coming up with excuses and half-truths for why they are avoiding it.
Excuses like, "the vaccine's effectiveness is so low, it is not worth getting;" "Besides, the season is half over and it takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect;" "I might as well just wash my hands well and take my chances;" and "I got the flu before, and it was no big deal" are circulating through our communities.
The H3N2 strain is a big deal, though. It was the dominant strain in three of the four flu seasons this century with the highest death rates.
Look at it this way: 5 to 20 percent of Americans catch the flu each year, sickening millions of people. Even if the vaccine were only 10 percent effective, we would still be protecting millions of lives.
It gets even better: Those protected would not pass the illness along to millions more people, including the elderly and very young children, whose risks of fatal complications are particularly high.
Here is something about the flu shot that few people know: Even when the vaccine is not a 100 percent match for each strain of flu, it generally provides a good immune response so patients experience a much shorter, milder case of the flu. In other words, the H3N2 strain's presence makes this one of the very best years to get vaccinated. The flu shot can mean the difference between a week or two weeks of illness; between staying at home and requiring hospitalization; and between hospitalization and death.
We are a couple of months into the most active part of flu season, but that does not mean the virus is going to be weaker or even less pervasive soon. The peak of flu season can occur as late as March.
Once it peaks, the threat does not come to a sudden halt, but trails off more slowly, sometimes with additional, smaller peaks along the way.
We all like to think of ourselves as good people who would save another person's life if we could. This is your chance. Right now. Get the flu shot to protect yourself and the people around you.