If you haven’t got this year’s flu shot, the CDC recommends that you do so soon, as cases soar across the country.
Flu activity usually peaks between December and February, but a new report from the CDC shows an early surge is happening across most of the country– something that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade. The CDC estimates that so far this year, there have been 1,600,00 illnesses, 13,000 hospitalizations, and 730 deaths from the flu.
“We were all in a pandemic the last couple of years and were practicing social distancing, so the flu was much less common,” said Dr. Luna Younan, a family medicine specialist in Milwaukee. “Now with less social distancing, our immune systems are being exposed and mounting responses again.”
Along with a very light flu season for the past two years, Americans also have less immunity, especially among children who may never have had the flu before, according to the CDC.
“Another thought is that COVID infections could be causing immune dysregulation,” said Dr. Younan. “Analyses of patients have revealed marked dysregulation of the immune system in severe cases of human coronavirus infection. It’s possible even mild to moderate covid can be weakening our immune systems as well as long term.”
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases among children are on the rise. RSV typically causes mild symptoms like cough, runny nose, and fever, but can also cause more serious health problems like bronchiolitis, inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and pneumonia. Both older adults as well as infants and young children are most susceptible to serious complications if they get RSV.
In October, 350 Wisconsin children tested positive for RSV at UW Health, which is three times the number of cases in 2021 during the same time frame. In 2020, there were zero confirmed cases of RSV in September and October.
According to the CDC, the increase of RSV cases are being reported across Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
“Most kids get an RSV infection by age 2,” said Dr. Younan. “You can get it again in the same season or next season, but it will be less serious the second time around.”
The Good News
Vaccines work! The CDC encourages everyone 6 months and older to get the flu shot every season to prevent the virus, lessen its severity, and prevent serious complications. Getting vaccinated can also help protect others around you.
To prevent the spread of RSV and the flu, doctors also reinforce the importance of “common sense” measures like covering your cough, washing your hands, and staying home when sick.
Isn’t It Too Late?
No! Although doctors recommend getting vaccinated by the end of October, any time you can get your shot is good. Flu season most commonly peaks in February, but significant activity can continue into May.
“But I Got Vaccinated Last Year…”
There are several reasons a new shot is formulated each year: the flu virus changes, so the vaccine is updated to protect against the current strain. The protection the vaccine provides also lessens over time.