Stay protected during severe flu season
STARKVILLE, Miss. – Flu hospitalizations in the U.S. have reached the highest level in a decade, but it is not too late to get protected during these peak months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated 34 U.S. states and the District of Columbia as having the highest levels of flu activity possible on its scale during the week ending November 26. Mississippi was one of the first states to reach that threshold early that month.
CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from flu.
“At this time in the season, flu hospitalization case numbers are higher than normal, and they’re only going to escalate more,” said David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “In the local social media groups I’m in for schools, childcare and parenting, most posts are about their children missing school because they have some kind of respiratory illness. The pediatrician offices here are slammed, and my teenager was out for a solid week with the flu in October.”
The most effective prevention against influenza is a vaccine. Flu shots are available at most pharmacies, doctors’ offices, health departments and urgent care centers. While September and October are typically the best months to receive the vaccine, it is still beneficial for people who get one in December.
“A flu shot can reduce the risk of going to the hospital by 82%," Buys said. “Even if the shot doesn’t keep you from getting the flu, it will mitigate the worst symptoms and help you recover more quickly.”
Most of those who have not received a flu shot or COVID-19 booster can get both during the same visit. Recent CDC research has found no evidence that one vaccine makes recipients more susceptible to another virus.
Larger households have more people to keep healthy, but vaccines can reduce the spread of flu from school to home.
“Children 5 years and older can spread flu to their higher risk family members, like infants younger than 6 months old and adults who are 65 years and older,” said Alisha Hardman, MSU Extension family life specialist. “Vaccinating everyone 6 months and older in your family helps them defend against flu each year and its potentially serious complications, and also can reduce the spread of flu to others.”
Especially among children with chronic health conditions, flu complications can sometimes be more serious for young children than adults.
“Examples of complications include pneumonia, dehydration and ear infections, as well as making chronic health conditions like asthma worse,” Hardman said. “Even for those who received the flu vaccine, avoid kissing babies and young children’s faces and hands to prevent spreading the flu virus to them.”
Dec. 5-9 is National Influenza Vaccination week. For more information on flu vaccinations and case data, visit the CDC influenza online hub at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.