We’re still a few months away from the flu peak season (June to November in the Philippines), but the U.S. is already currently in the midst of their worst one in nearly a decade. There are a few crucial things we can learn from what their health crisis.
Currently, confirmed flu cases in the U.S. total to 126,117 individuals this season, which began in October, CNN reported, and there’s no sign of the disease slowing down anytime soon.
“We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told CNN. “Really, the bottom line is, there is still likely many more weeks to go.”
Entire school districts have closed, doctors are working up to triple shifts, and hospitals are already strained to capacity causing rising worries as to how they will be able to cope if and when a pandemic hits.
“The toll on children has been especially severe,” reported The Washington Post. According to the most recent report from the CDC, 53 children have succumbed to the disease since the start of the U.S. flu season. Half of the children who died were “otherwise healthy,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan, the director of the influenza division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in the U.S.
What’s causing such a bad case of flu in the U.S.? A particularly brutal bug is to blame. A strain of the influenza A virus called H3N3 is dominating the flu season — nearly 90 percent of cases, reported Vox — and it's a bug associated with more hospitalizations, health complications, and death. It hits harder than other flu strains, particularly in the very young and the elderly, and researchers aren't sure why. “Of the viruses we hate, we hate H3N2 more than the other ones,” said CDC flu expert Daniel Jernigan to The Washington Post.
Preventing the spread of germs is vital, said the CDC. They encourage everyone to practice daily preventive habits such as frequent hand washing and keeping away from others who are sick.
Paramount, however, is immunization. “Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu,” said the CDC. They’re still recommending it to Americans who haven’t received theirs yet.
It’s best to get the shot before flu season starts though as “it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protects against flu... Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season.”
The takeaway for Pinoy parents? Don’t miss the annual flu vaccination season in March and April.
Flu shots are given every year because the prevalent strain of the flu virus changes from year to year as well. This year’s flu vaccine protection may not be as effective for next year’s flu season.
Note that the vaccine has its limitations in that it does not provide 100 percent protection, “but those who develop flu even when already immunized have a lower risk for complications,” said Dr. Eduardo Gonzales in a column for Manila Bulletin.
If you missed March and April flu shot months, it's still recommended to get the flu shots as they protect in any month of the year. “In the Philippines as well as in other tropical countries, the flu could occur at any time of the year, but the peak season of flu is of course during the wet and the rainy months, which is from June to November. But it can occur at any time,” said Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) president Dr. Cecilia Montalban, reported GMA News.
The whole family should get the annual flu shot, but it's a must for “children between six months and five years of age, people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, and people 50 years old and older,” said Dr. Gonzales. It’s safe for pregnant women as well. Babies 6 months old and below whose moms were vaccinated with the flu shot during pregnancy were 70 percent less likely to have the flu compared to babies born to mothers who didn’t get the shot while pregnant, according to a research published in Pediatrics last year.
If your baby is younger than six months, CDC advises you, and others who care for your baby, to get vaccinated. “You should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu,” they said, especially because this age group is at high risk of serious flu complications.
Don’t forget to teach the kids about a proper cough and cold etiquette too. Here’s a quick guide from the Department of Health: