From the San Bernardino County Sun
By Courtney Perkes, firstname.lastname@example.org, @cperkes on Twitter
Flu season still feels far away with Southern California’s warm temperatures keeping summer alive, but public health doctors say now is the best time to get vaccinated for protection that will last through winter and spring.
“We want to encourage everybody to try and get the flu shot to protect themselves,” said Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare, San Bernardino County Health Officer. “They’re not only protecting themselves, they’re also protecting the community.”
Here’s what you need to know for the 2016-17 flu season:
Bad news, kids: No more avoiding shots
The nasal spray Flu Mist, which first came out in 2003, has been a popular choice for many needle-averse children. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it shouldn’t be used this season after determining that it didn’t work last year.
The CDC found that last flu season, the nasal spray’s effectiveness among children ages 2 to 17 was only 3 percent, meaning “no protective benefit could be measured.” In comparison, shots were 63 percent effective among that age group.
“It was a point that was important to a lot of kids and a lot of families,” said Dr. Matt Zahn, medical director for epidemiology for Orange County’s Health Care Agency. “We know that this year some kids who were getting the nasal vaccine in the past will be getting a shot. You have to go with what works.”
Don’t wait for cold weather
The CDC advises that everyone age 6 months or older get vaccinated by the end of October. It can take up to two weeks to develop full immunity and a shot will last the full season, regardless of how early it’s given.
Now is the best time to get the flu shot.
Dr. Ben Schwartz, acting director of the acute communicable disease control program for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, advises that when the vaccine is around, don’t let an opportunity pass by to get vaccinated.
“If you’re going to the pharmacy to pick something up, while you’re there, get vaccinated,” Schwartz said. “If you’re going to the doctor for an annual checkup, while you’re there, get vaccinated.”
It’s impossible to predict the severity
The 2015-16 flu season was moderate in Southern California but it’s too soon to know what to expect for the upcoming one.
Each year, a new vaccine is formulated to match what are expected to be the most commonly circulating viruses based on global flu activity. Schwartz said the flu strains included in last year’s vaccine were a good match to the illness that circulated.
This year’s shot has been updated to include two new strains and offers protection for H1N1, as well as influenza A and B.
“As we get later in the season and are able to see what viruses are predominant, we can do a better job of predicting what the flu season will look like,” Schwartz said.
Last year, the season started a bit slow and then picked up a bit, Ohikhuare said.
“It’s so difficult to predict what the flu season will be like until we start getting into it,” he said.
The flu can be deadly and costly
The CDC says 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, with anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 dying of complications.
“Every year, thousands of people will die of influenza in the U.S.,” Zahn said. “We’ve come to accept it but we don’t have to.”
The illness costs an estimated $10.4 billion a year in direct medical expenses and an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings, the CDC said.
The vaccine won’t make you sick
The most common side effects from the shot are a sore arm and possibly a slight fever or achiness.
“Some people have a mistaken belief that a vaccine can give them the flu,” Schwartz said. “They may have had an illness after getting the vaccine so they think it doesn’t work. We know that the vaccine is absolutely unable to give somebody the flu because it’s a killed vaccine. There’s no live virus in it whatsoever.”
Find a flu shot here: vaccine.healthmap.org.