Welcome to this 12 months’s flu season.
This 12 months’s flu pressure has already begun spreading throughout the USA, in response to new information from the US Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. There have been at the very least 880,000 instances of influenza, almost 7,000 hospitalizations and, tragically, 360 deaths from the flu this fall, together with one pediatric dying. Not since 2009, in the course of the top of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, have there been this many instances of influenza so early within the season.
Regardless of these numbers, many individuals surprise if the flu is absolutely that severe of an sickness. What’s the advantage of the vaccine, particularly if some individuals should still get the flu regardless of being vaccinated? May you get the flu from the vaccine? If you happen to get the Covid vaccine, do you continue to want the flu vaccine?
To information us via these questions and extra, I spoke with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency doctor, public well being professional and professor of well being coverage and administration on the George Washington College Milken Institute Faculty of Public Well being. She can also be the creator of “Lifelines: A Physician’s Journey within the Combat for Public Well being.”
CNN: Is the flu a severe sickness? What signs do individuals expertise?
Dr. Leana Wen: It definitely may be severe. The CDC estimates that flu resulted between 9 million and 41 million diseases, 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 to 52,000 deaths yearly throughout the US between 2010 and 2020.
Signs of the flu embody fever, muscle aches, complications, fatigue, coughing and a runny nostril. Lots of people get better inside a number of days, however some should still be feeling unwell so long as 10 days to 2 weeks after the onset of their signs. Some will develop problems, together with sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and irritation of the mind. The flu may exacerbate underlying medical circumstances — for instance, individuals with persistent lung and coronary heart ailments can see their circumstances worsen as a result of flu.
Even usually wholesome individuals can grow to be very ailing as a result of flu. Nonetheless, these notably prone to extreme outcomes embody these 65 and older, younger kids below 2, pregnant individuals and other people with underlying medical circumstances.
CNN: What’s the advantage of the vaccine, particularly if some individuals might get the flu regardless of being vaccinated?
Wen: The flu vaccine does two issues. First and most significantly, it reduces your probability of extreme sickness — that’s, of being hospitalized or dying. Second, it could 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. A very powerful cause to get vaccinated in opposition to each the flu and the coronavirus is to stop extreme sickness. New information launched in the CDC’s newest morbidity and mortality report exhibits this 12 months’s flu vaccine reduces the danger of hospitalization by about 50%. A 2018 research discovered that folks vaccinated in opposition to 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 nicely matched the vaccine is to circulating influenza strains. The CDC cites vaccine effectiveness in opposition to “medically attended sickness” wherever from 23% to 61% relying on the 12 months and vaccine-to-strain match. It’s true, then, that you can get the flu vaccine and nonetheless contract the flu. However the vaccine does cut back your probability thereof — and, crucially, it reduces the probability that you can find yourself very ailing.
One other factor to contemplate is that there are a variety of different viruses that may trigger flu-like signs. The flu vaccine helps shield in opposition to viral infections brought on by influenza, however there are a variety of different causes of viral syndromes, together with adenovirus, rhinovirus, parainfluenza and others. These different viruses unfold simply, too, and there aren’t vaccines in opposition to them. I usually hear sufferers say they as soon as received the flu the identical 12 months they’d a flu vaccine, and that’s why they don’t need to get vaccinated once more. However after I ask them whether or not they had been truly identified with the flu or simply had flu-like signs, they might say the latter.
CNN: Ought to kids and pregnant individuals additionally get the flu vaccine?
Wen: Completely. These are teams notably susceptible to extreme outcomes, so it’s essential they obtain the flu vaccine.
Comparable outcomes are present in people who find themselves pregnant. Not solely does the flu vaccine shield the pregnant individual, if the vaccine is given throughout being pregnant it additionally helps shield their child from the flu for the primary few months of its life. That’s essential, as a result of the flu vaccine will not be out there to infants till they’re 6 months or older.
CNN: May you get the flu from the vaccine?
Wen: No. The flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, which suggests it doesn’t include the stay virus and subsequently can’t trigger the flu. Additionally it is a really well-tolerated vaccine, with the most typical aspect impact being discomfort on the injection web site that’s gone after a day.
CNN: If you happen to received the Covid-19 vaccine, do you continue to want the flu vaccine?
Wen: Sure. Completely different vaccines goal completely different viruses. The Covid vaccine helps to guard in opposition to Covid, however doesn’t shield in opposition to the flu, and vice versa. You possibly can obtain the Covid vaccine (or bivalent booster) similtaneously you obtain the flu vaccine, simply in a distinct injection web site.
CNN: Some individuals have been ready till later within the flu season to get the flu vaccine. Is that this a good suggestion?
Wen: At this level, no, as a result of it’s now clear this flu season is beginning sooner than ordinary. Instances 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 ought to individuals learn about therapies for the flu?
Wen: Most instances of the flu may be handled symptomatically, that means sufferers get relaxation, hydration and therapy for signs that come up — reminiscent of fever-reducing medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. There are additionally antiviral therapies out there. These are actually essential for individuals at excessive danger for extreme influenza problems and/or who’re very ailing. The sooner such therapies are began, the higher. An oral remedy, oseltamivir (Tamiflu), will also be given to non-high-risk sufferers, too, inside 48 hours of the beginning of their sickness.
I’d encourage everybody to have an influenza plan, the identical approach they need to have a Covid plan. Ask your physician prematurely in the event you ought to obtain Tamiflu or one other antiviral therapy. Know how one can get testing and the place you may entry therapy, together with after hours and on weekends.
CNN: How can individuals stop catching the flu?
Wen: The flu is primarily unfold via 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 after which touching their nostril, mouth or eyes.
We will help to scale back flu transmission by staying away from others whereas symptomatic. We should always all cough or sneeze into our elbow or a tissue, and wash our fingers ceaselessly, together with after touching high-contact surfaces. People notably susceptible to extreme outcomes ought to take into account carrying a masks to scale back their probability of contracting viral diseases just like the flu. And, in fact, get vaccinated!