HOUSTON – Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine study the pattern of the flu in the southern hemisphere to examine how it may affect us.
What they can already predict about this year:
1. It will be an active season
“There is every reason to expect that we could have a severe flu season this year,” said Dr. Robert Atmar, professor and interim chief of the section of infectious diseases at Baylor. “It’s always hard to predict what is going to happen, but people should be prepared.”
“This year I would predict that the major virus to circulate, or that will circulate is an influenza a H3N2, if that's correct that virus normally is associated with a lot more death, a lot more hospitalization, a lot more morbidity, to all individuals in the community,” Dr. Pedro Piedra, BCM pediatric infectious disease specialist, said.
Will it be worse than most years?
Not necessarily, but there are currently very low levels of the flu, which means now is the time to be vaccinated. Also, if the southern hemisphere is a good indication of what happens here, they just had a severe season.
“We know that flu is at very low levels at this time, there are other viruses, there are a lot of other viruses that are circulating that can cause flu-like symptoms. They're not flu. So, take advantage when flu is at low levels to be vaccinated so that you can be vaccinated during the flu season,” he said.
2. The vaccine takes two weeks to provide protection, but people still procrastinate
The vaccine takes time to provide full protection and is recommended for everyone older than 6 months old. The thing is, some women hesitate to get vaccines while pregnant. What they may not understand is it’s safe for pregnant women during any trimester to get the flu shot. Plus, they will pass their antibodies to the baby, which will help protect the newborns during the first six months of life (until they are old enough for the vaccine).
Instead of the standard vaccine, it is recommended that people 65 years old and older get one of two vaccines: a higher dose vaccine that has been available for several years now or an adjuvant vaccine that is available for the first time in the United States this year. There is no preferred shot, just make sure to ask your doctor.
Remember, the nasal form of the vaccine is not recommended again this year because studies show it's not effective against the most severe strain of flu.
3. You might still get sick, but it won’t be that bad
Nothing is 100 percent, but getting the flu shot can severely lessen the symptoms and complications of the flu.
People, especially children and the elderly, die every year from pneumonia and other complications caused by the flu.
“Even though some people may have gotten sick with influenza after getting the flu shot, there’s a good chance that they did not get as sick as they would have if they had not received the flu shot,” Atmar said.
Flu season typically peaks between November and February.