It may seem like flu season just ended, but right now, many doctors’ offices and pharmacies are offering vaccines for the next flu season.
Flu season’s start can be unpredictable. Typically, the first cases appear in November, numbers peak in February and then fade out by May.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill infectious disease expert Dr. David Weber said even though that November timeline isn’t here yet, now is the time to get vaccinated.
“The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over 6 months of age receive a flu vaccine,” Webere said.
The past two flu seasons in North Carolina were quite different. In the 2015-16 flu season, there were 59 deaths linked to influenza. That number spiked much higher by the end of the 2016-17 season, though, with 193 flu-related deaths.
The majority of deaths are typically among people age 65 and older.
Others at high risk for complications from the flu are pregnant women, very young children, people with certain chronic health conditions, such as respiratory problems, and people with a compromised immune system.
Weber said infectious disease officials always keep a close watch on flu activity in the southern hemisphere to predict the season in the other half of the world.
“Right now, flu in places like Australia and South America is much higher, two or three times (higher) than last year,” Weber said. “That is often a harbinger for what flu will be like this year, so I might expect a worse-than-average flu season this year.”
Last season, the vaccine was only about 48 percent effective. Weber said it’s always a guessing game based on what flu strains are active in the southern hemisphere.
Those flu strains are what help determine what formulation is offered in the northern hemisphere during flu season. Weber said he won’t know for sure until the first flu cases appear, but even a partially effective vaccine is better than no vaccine.
The most available and most effective vaccine is the quadravalent form. It contains two strains of Influenza A and two strains of influenza B.
The nasal mist vaccine was popular among children but is no longer offered.
There is an intradermal vaccine and an egg-free version, too.
WRAL Health Team’s Dr. Allen Mask said to ask your health care provider what is best for you. Mask said it’s best to get yourself and your children vaccinated now so the body has time to build up full immunity before the first cases appear.
A shot now will offer protection through the entire flu season.