Early signs point to this year’s flu season being the worst in years

A weekly report released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds numbers to previous predictions of a troubling flu season.

The number of reported hospitalizations as of Oct. 29 topped all recent years in the same week dating back to the 2010-11 season. Although not a direct count of cases, the number of people hospitalized with a virus such as influenza or COVID-19 reflects the health care burden of a disease and shows how many people are injured.

Experts have warned, however, that this season could produce more flu illnesses, depending on the severity of the situation in Australia – a country where flu viruses tend to develop first during the opposite winter season before to migrate to the northern hemisphere.

“It’s hard to anticipate the trends we’ll see each flu season, but we typically look to the southern hemisphere for clues,” said Dr. Brittany Mueller, internal medicine physician at Atlantic Medical Group. Primary Care. “Australia is monitoring its flu cases very carefully, and we know its flu season has started earlier than usual this year and has had a high number of cases.”

Additionally, mask-wearing and the public health precautions we’ve been taking since COVID-19[feminine] which also resulted in historically low flu seasons are starting to melt. And another respiratory disease known for its effects on young children and babies, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infectionalso causes waves of disease.

“Now that people are going out without masks, traveling a lot and having vacations again, going to restaurants and church services, and going back to school and the office, there are more opportunities for people. [flu] virus to circulate,” Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, told AARP.

Each year, flu vaccines are changed to best reflect the circulating strains of the virus, including the formulations available that year. And because the bulk of flu season in the United States is probably still a few months away, getting vaccinated now will still protect you against serious illnesses. There are also some antiviral treatment options you should be aware of, especially if you are at higher risk for severe flu or flu complications.

Here’s what you need to know.

Should I get the flu shot?

Yes, most people should. The CDC issued a universal recommendation after the 2010-2011 flu season that everyone (with rare exceptions) should get the flu shot. There are different flu shots, depending on your age and other factors.

And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic: what might be a week of being laid off for you might be a hospital stay or worse for someone another who catches the flu. Getting the flu shot minimizes your risk of serious illness, but may also reduce your risk of spreading the flu to others.

What are the treatments for the flu? Who is at high risk?

Most people who catch the flu pick up at home and can manage symptoms by staying hydrated, resting, and taking medication, if needed. But others are more susceptible to serious illness or complications from the flu, especially people aged 65 and over, very young children under 5, and people who are immunocompromised or have an underlying health condition. .

There are four antivirals approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration to treat influenza this season: oseltamivir phosphate (trade name Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), peramivir (Rapivab) and baloxavir marboxil (trade name commercial Xofluza). They have different treatment regimens and are approved for different age groups, but if you or your child are at high risk of flu complications you should contact your doctor as soon as you develop flu symptoms or think having been exposed, because antivirals seem to work better the sooner they are started — particularly two days after symptoms appear, according to the CDC. Healthy people at risk of developing a milder case of flu can also take an antiviral, but these treatments are specifically recommended by the CDC for people at higher risk.

If you are concerned about your risk of flu complications or think you are at higher risk, contact your doctor. But here are some groups of people at higher risk for flu complications and who should contact their doctor for further treatment, according to the CDC:

  • Older adults (usually 65 and over)
  • Children under 5 (children and babies under 2 are most at risk)
  • Pregnant women and those who have just given birth
  • People who live in retirement homes
  • People with lung or heart conditions, including asthma, COPD, and heart disease
  • People with kidney, liver, or blood disorders, including sickle cell disease
  • Those with metabolic disorders
  • People with diabetes or endocrine disorders
  • People with neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders
  • People with weakened immune systems

People of certain races and cultures are also more likely to get seriously ill from the flu. According to the CDC, Indigenous people are at higher risk for complications from the flu, including pneumonia and bronchitis.

How old do you have to be to get the flu shot?

Babies as young as 6 months old (and all older) can get the flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics say it’s safe to get the flu shot at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine, which now includes the new COVID-19 booster.

Note that while it is safe to receive both vaccines at the same time, you may be more likely to experience mild, temporary side effects from the vaccine such as muscle aches if you receive both the COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccine against the flu at the same time, according to a study. .

A cup of tea with a box of tissues and medicine

Frank Grittke/Getty Images

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Which flu shot should I get?

The flu vaccine you receive will most likely depend on your age. Specific higher dose vaccines are recommended for adults 65 years and older, who may need an additional boost in immunity. All flu vaccines available this year are quadrivalent, meaning they are designed to protect against four different flu viruses.

There are different types of influenza vaccines, including standard-dose influenza vaccines for adults under 65, nasal vaccines containing live but weakened versions of the influenza virus for people ages 2 to 49, and stronger formulas for older adults.

The CDC does not have a specific recommendation for most people under age 65. But there might be special considerations or advice for other adults, including people who are pregnant, those with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, and people who have had a serious illness. allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past, according to Mueller.

If you are over 65: The CDC recommends that you receive either the Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine, the Flublok Quadrivalent recombinant influenza vaccine, or the Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted influenza vaccine, if possible. These flu vaccines have been shown to elicit a more robust immune response in older adults.

When to get the flu shot

The CDC recommends most people get it in September or October, but getting one after October will likely still be effective in protecting you before the peak of flu season, which usually begins to peak around December and continues. until March.

“It takes about two weeks to develop the antibodies, which will last about six months,” Mueller said. “This will get us through most of the winter months when the flu tends to be prevalent in the northern hemisphere.”

Where to get the flu shot

The flu vaccination campaign is different from the campaign for COVID-19 vaccines, which are free for everyone because they were paid for by the federal government and strategically available through a vaccine search website.

But you should still be able to find a flu shot relatively easily. If you have an attending physician, you can get one in their practice. If you don’t have a health care provider, you can call a pharmacy or health clinic near you to see if one is available. They might ask your age to see if they have the recommended vaccine in stock for you.

Note that when you see a “free flu shot” ad at a pharmacy like this, it usually means free for most insurance plans. If you have health insurance (including Medicaid), you should be able to find a free or discounted flu shot. However, if you decide to make a doctor’s appointment, the office visit might be an added expense, even if the flu shot was free.

How much does a flu shot cost without insurance?

If you are completely uninsured, you may still be able to get a free flu shot from your local health department or community clinic, which often hold pop-up events at the start of flu season. . You can also pay out of pocket at a doctor or pharmacy – the cost of the vaccine itself usually ranges from $20 to $75.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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