With the calendar now flipped to March and displaying those beloved seasonal milestones, daylight saving time on March 10 and the first day of spring on March 20, many people who skipped the flu vaccine assume that they have successfully dodged the virus this year.
“Unfortunately, those people may be wrong,” said Richard Vienne, D.O., Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer. “It is possible that we have passed the peak time for influenza to strike this year, but the flu season is far from over, and flu activity can last until May.” According to weekly influenza tracking by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity remains elevated in the United States as of March 2, 2019. Influenza A (H1N1) pdm09, influenza A (H3N2), and influenza B viruses continue to circulate.
In New York state, there have been 69,446 reported flu cases and 12,170 reported flu-associated hospitalizations by March 2, 2019. Compared to the 2017-2018 flu season, that’s a 28 percent decrease in flu reports and a 17 percent decrease in flu patients hospitalized. The numbers this season are still higher than those we saw in the 2016-2017 and 2015-2016 flu seasons.
“The dominant flu strain this year, so far, is type A H1N1, which is among the strains targeted by this season’s vaccine,” said Vienne. “But, at month five of the eight-month flu season, we’re now seeing an uptick in type A H3N2, which also is one of the three or four viruses that this year’s vaccine helps protect against.” Only about one in three upstate New York adults gets the flu vaccine, leaving too many people around you at the grocery store, church, school and elsewhere vulnerable to being infected. Someone infected with the flu virus can spread it to unsuspecting people up to about 6 feet away, mainly by expelling microscopic droplets into the air when coughing, sneezing, or just talking.
“For young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, the flu virus can be deadly,” said Vienne. “Last year’s flu, and complications from flu, killed 80,000 people—the highest U.S. influenza death toll in 40 years, according to the CDC.”
Good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
With about two months remaining in the 2018-2019 flu season, it’s not too late to get the vaccine. Studies support its effectiveness in preventing flu, and in reducing the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick. With few exceptions, the CDC recommends that everyone ages six months and older gets vaccinated.
Peter Kates is the vice president communications for Univera Healthcare.