Welcome to this 12 months’s flu season.
This 12 months’s flu pressure has already begun spreading throughout the United States, in response to new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been not less than 880,000 instances of influenza, practically 7,000 hospitalizations and, tragically, 360 deaths from the flu this fall, together with one pediatric demise. Not since 2009, throughout the top of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, have there been this many cases of influenza so early in the season.
Despite these numbers, many individuals surprise if the flu is absolutely that severe of an sickness. What’s the good thing about the vaccine, particularly if some individuals should get the flu regardless of being vaccinated? Could you get the flu from the vaccine? If you get the Covid vaccine, do you continue to want the flu vaccine?
To information us by way of these questions and extra, I spoke with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency doctor, public well being skilled and professor of well being coverage and administration at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She can also be the writer of “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.”
CNN: Is the flu a severe sickness? What signs do individuals expertise?
Dr. Leana Wen: It definitely could be severe. The CDC estimates that flu resulted between 9 million and 41 million sicknesses, 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 to 52,000 deaths yearly throughout the US between 2010 and 2020.
Symptoms of the flu embrace fever, muscle aches, complications, fatigue, coughing and a runny nostril. Lots of people get better inside a number of days, however some should be feeling unwell so long as 10 days to 2 weeks after the onset of their signs. Some will develop issues, together with sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and irritation of the mind. The flu may exacerbate underlying medical situations — for instance, individuals with persistent lung and coronary heart illnesses can see their situations worsen on account of the flu.
Even typically wholesome individuals can change into very in poor health on account of the flu. However, these notably vulnerable to extreme outcomes embrace these 65 and older, younger kids below 2, pregnant individuals and individuals with underlying medical situations.
CNN: What’s the good thing about the vaccine, particularly if some individuals could get the flu regardless of being vaccinated?
Wen: The flu vaccine does two issues. First and most significantly, it reduces your likelihood of extreme sickness — that’s, of being hospitalized or dying. Second, it might additionally cut back your probability of getting sick from the flu in any respect.
In a way, this isn’t too completely different from the Covid-19 vaccine. The most necessary cause to get vaccinated towards each the flu and the coronavirus is to stop extreme sickness. New knowledge launched in the CDC’s latest morbidity and mortality report reveals this 12 months’s flu vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization by about 50%. A 2018 examine discovered that individuals vaccinated towards the flu had been 59% much less more likely to be admitted to the ICU on account of influenza compared with those that had been unvaccinated.
The vaccine’s effectiveness can range relying on how properly matched the vaccine is to circulating influenza strains. The CDC cites vaccine effectiveness towards “medically attended illness” wherever from 23% to 61% relying on the 12 months and vaccine-to-strain match. It’s true, then, that you may get the flu vaccine and nonetheless contract the flu. But the vaccine does cut back your likelihood thereof — and, crucially, it reduces the probability that you may find yourself very in poor health.
Another factor to contemplate is that there are loads of different viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms. The flu vaccine helps shield towards viral infections brought on by influenza, however there are loads of different causes of viral syndromes, together with adenovirus, rhinovirus, parainfluenza and others. These different viruses unfold simply, too, and there aren’t vaccines towards them. I usually hear sufferers say they as soon as received the flu the similar 12 months they’d a flu vaccine, and that’s why they don’t need to get vaccinated once more. But after I ask them whether or not they had been truly recognized with the flu or simply had flu-like signs, they might say the latter.
CNN: Should kids and pregnant individuals additionally get the flu vaccine?
Wen: Absolutely. These are teams notably weak to extreme outcomes, so it’s essential they obtain the flu vaccine.
Similar outcomes are present in people who find themselves pregnant. Not solely does the flu vaccine protect the pregnant person, if the vaccine is given throughout being pregnant it additionally helps shield their child from the flu for the first few months of its life. That’s necessary, as a result of the flu vaccine will not be accessible to infants till they’re 6 months or older.
CNN: Could you get the flu from the vaccine?
Wen: No. The flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, which implies it doesn’t comprise the dwell virus and due to this fact can’t trigger the flu. It can also be a really well-tolerated vaccine, with the most typical facet impact being discomfort at the injection web site that’s gone after a day.
CNN: If you bought the Covid-19 vaccine, do you continue to want the flu vaccine?
Wen: Yes. Different vaccines goal completely different viruses. The Covid vaccine helps to guard towards Covid, however doesn’t shield towards the flu, and vice versa. You can obtain the Covid vaccine (or bivalent booster) at the similar time as you obtain the flu vaccine, simply in a distinct injection web site.
CNN: Some individuals have been ready till later in the flu season to get the flu vaccine. Is this a good suggestion?
Wen: At this level, no, as a result of it’s now clear this flu season is beginning sooner than standard. Cases are already excessive, and it takes about two weeks to succeed in optimum immune safety after vaccination. I’d encourage individuals who haven’t but obtained the flu vaccine to get it now.
CNN: What should individuals learn about remedies for the flu?
Wen: Most instances of the flu could be handled symptomatically, which means sufferers get relaxation, hydration and therapy for signs that come up — resembling fever-reducing medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. There are additionally antiviral treatments accessible. These are actually necessary for individuals at excessive threat for extreme influenza issues and/or who’re very in poor health. The earlier such remedies are began, the higher. An oral medicine, oseltamivir (Tamiflu), can be given to non-high-risk sufferers, too, inside 48 hours of the begin of their sickness.
I’d encourage everybody to have an influenza plan, the similar manner they should have a Covid plan. Ask your physician prematurely when you should obtain Tamiflu or one other antiviral therapy. Know how one can get testing and the place you possibly can entry therapy, together with after hours and on weekends.
CNN: How can individuals stop catching the flu?
Wen: The flu is primarily spread through droplets — if an contaminated individual coughs or sneezes, these droplets can land on another person close by. It’s additionally potential that the droplets land on a floor, from which somebody will get contaminated after touching it and then touching their nostril, mouth or eyes.
We can assist to scale back flu transmission by staying away from others whereas symptomatic. We should all cough or sneeze into our elbow or a tissue, and wash our palms ceaselessly, together with after touching high-contact surfaces. Individuals notably weak to extreme outcomes should contemplate sporting a masks to scale back their likelihood of contracting viral sicknesses like the flu. And, in fact, get vaccinated!