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Jump ahead of this flu season

It sometimes can be hard to distinguish between the flu and a cold. There are vaccines for the flu, and doctors urge people get a flu shot each year.
It sometimes can be hard to distinguish between the flu and a cold. There are vaccines for the flu, and doctors urge people get a flu shot each year.

Get flu shots early – Spokane Regional Health District suggests as soon as possible – well before the influenza season hits hard this winter.

Flu already has made its arrival with authorities reporting Spokane had its first hospital case related to the illness last week.

The warning comes on the heels of recent news on the 2017-18 flu season being one of the worst. The U.S. government released estimates last week that 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter, the disease’s highest death toll in at least four decades.

“Locally, statewide, and nationally it was the worst flu season on record for seasonal influenza,” SRHD epidemiologist Malia Nogle said. “The recommendation is to get the flu shot before the end of October, but the sooner the better.

“We do know the virus is circulating in the community.”

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Older people, young children and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious flu complications.

In Spokane County, the flu typically peaks January through mid-March. Nogle reminds people that it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to develop immunities in an individual’s body.

“We recommend receiving the shot sooner, then when the season hits, the individual has had those antibodies in their system. It’s not just about protecting yourself, it’s also protecting those who can’t get flu shots, infants and of course the elderly.”

Last flu season in Spokane County, 616 people were hospitalized and 41 people died from flu-related complications. Regionally, that’s a spike from the 2016-17 flu season that saw 315 people hospitalized, and 14 deaths.

One issue last season was that the flu vaccine wasn’t very effective in preventing H3N2, a version of the A strain, Nogle said. Otherwise last year, health authorities saw reasonable overall effectiveness rates for the flu shot, especially for certain strains.

“It was very effective for the H1N1 and B strains,” she said. “The H3N2 strain was the one it wasn’t very compatible with and not very effective in preventing. This year, they’ve adjusted the strains and the flu vaccine and are hoping it will be a better match.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people 6 months and older get immunized against flu. The vaccine typically promotes antibody protection within two weeks.

Flu vaccine choices this year

Trivalent vaccine. The traditional vaccine designed to protect against three different flu viruses – two A viruses and one B virus.

Quadrivalent vaccine. These flu vaccines protect against four strains of influenza – two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. By including a second strain of influenza B, this provides broader protection.

High-dose vaccines. Approved for people 65 and older, these vaccines include four times the usual level of immunity-producing proteins to provide more protection.

Nasal spray flu vaccine. The spray is back for 2018-19 after a two-year absence, available for use in non-pregnant individuals, ages 2 through 49.

What to know for kids

The CDC considers children, along with the elderly, among risk groups for severe flu symptoms and death. Total flu fatalities in the U.S. in the 2017-18 season included 180 pediatric deaths, exceeding the previously highest number of 171 child deaths in the 2012-13 season.

The nasal spray flu vaccine might be easier for some children or older people who can’t take regular shots, Nogle said, but health groups suggest the injected vaccine is preferred.

In September, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued the opinion that both the AAP and CDC support use of the nasal spray vaccine for the 2018-19 season toward the aim of adequate vaccination coverage in children of all ages.

However, the group said the flu shot is preferred over the spray if “they are 2 years of age or older and healthy without an underlying medical condition.”

Also important, for children younger than 9 who are getting the flu shot for the first time, they need two doses administered about four weeks apart. Parents are urged to begin the process early.

The first dose “primes” the immune system; the second dose provides immune protection. Children who don’t receive the second dose can have reduced or no protection. It usually takes about two weeks after the second dose for protection to begin.

The CDC also says all children who have previously gotten two doses of vaccine (at any time) only need one dose of vaccine this season. The first dose should be given as soon as vaccine becomes available.

What to know for seniors

Health officials recommend getting the high-dose vaccine if you are 65 and older. The CDC says during most flu seasons, the elderly often are the hardest hit by influenza because of weakened immune systems.

In recent years, the agency estimated that between 70 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 54 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group.

“For seniors 65 and older, their immune systems are a lot weaker which means they might benefit less from the standard flu shot,” Nogle said. “So that’s where we would recommend they receive the high dose. It includes four times the usual level of immunity-producing proteins.”

Flu symptoms

Feeling sick? You might have the flu if you’re experiencing these symptoms:

Fever or feeling feverish/chills

Cough

Sore throat

Runny or stuffy nose

Muscle or body aches

Headaches

Extreme fatigue

Beyond the vaccine

There are other steps to keeping yourself and others healthy:

Wash hands well and often

Stay home when sick

Cover cough or sneeze

Wipe down counters, desks, tables and other surfaces with disinfectant.

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