• October 17, 2019

CATES: 2019-2020 flu season is here - Odessa American: Opinions

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CATES: 2019-2020 flu season is here

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Posted: Monday, September 30, 2019 12:30 am

While the weather hasn’t quite figured it out yet, the calendar is saying we are now in the autumn season. In many ways autumn is my favorite time of year. Cooler weather without being cold, usually less windy than spring, football and tailgating, the autumn celebrations of Halloween, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving. The list goes on. One of the few things I don’t like about fall is the start of flu season. While flu season is traditionally October to March, it’s u typically November/December before we start seeing flu cases in the hospital, but this year, we have already started seeing flu cases—technically before flu season has even started. That is why it is so important for everyone who can get immunized to do so for as early as possible.

In 2019, Australia has had their worst flu season on record. Since Australia is in the Southern hemisphere, and their flu season runs June-September, they are usually a good predictor of how the flu season will impact the U.S. This year, Australia had a record 257,359 cases of flu and 587 deaths. In 2018, they had 52,000 cases of flu with 73 deaths. That spike in flu cases is alarming. The flu has been such an epidemic in Australia this year that they have expanded their free flu shot program from just high risk people such as the elderly, homeless, and pregnant women to include all kids between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. If the US were to experience a similar proportion of our population with flu cases that would leave 3.3 million people in the U.S. with the flu, and a similar death rate would mean we could lose more than 7,500 people during this year’s flu season. According to these statistics, that would mean roughly 15, 000 people in Ector County would get the flu, with 34 of those resulting in death—if we have a comparable season to the flu epidemic Australia had. Personally, I’d rather not go there.

Flu vaccinations are by far the best way to prevent the flu. For the 2019-2020 flu season the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended vaccination for everyone over 6 months of age. The type and dose of vaccine depends on the person’s age and health status. The CDC also states the best timing for the flu vaccine is during September when the new season vaccine starts to become available through the end of October. Children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years that need 2 doses of flu vaccine should get the first dose as soon as the vaccine is available from their health care provider, health department, or other resource so they can get the second dose in before the end of October if at all possible (doses must be at least 4 weeks apart).

Most people can get the flu vaccine. Those who cannot are infants under 6 months of age, or people with severe, life threatening allergies to the vaccine or any of its ingredients. One allergy that people often think of with vaccines is egg allergies. The CDC states that if you can eat a lightly cooked egg (e.g. scrambled egg) without issues, you are unlikely to have issues with vaccines.  If you have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, you should talk to your health care provider before getting the flu vaccine. If you feel you have other issues that may cause reactions with flu vaccines, please speak to your healthcare provider before getting vaccinated.

Other ways to prevent the flu are:

  • Avoiding contact with people who are sick. You should know that even if you have been vaccinated for flu, this is a good practice, particularly in the first two weeks after you have received the vaccine. It takes about 2 weeks for the vaccine to protect you from the flu.
  • Stay home when you are sick—this helps prevent the spread of the flu.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands when a tissue is not available. Cough into you elbow instead.
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently, particularly after coughing or sneezing or handling tissues.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth—those are sites where the flu virus frequently enters the body.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and home, work, and school, particularly when someone is sick.

The flu is largely preventable, if people take precautions, particularly getting the flu vaccine. I will be getting mine as soon as the vaccine is available, as will the rest of my family. I hope you get vaccinated soon as well.

Odessa, TX

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