While most of us probably associate springtime with seasonal allergies rather than the flu, this year could change that.
Until the last several weeks, flu season has been relatively mild across most of the U.S. and Connecticut, however, according to the Department of Public Health, flu activity is on the rise across the state.
Why now? There are several potential reasons, but the most likely culprit is the slow rollback of COVID mitigation measures (e.g., masking) and our general return to pre-pandemic activities such as gathering with loved ones and traveling. Measures put in place to protect against COVID also worked to limit flu transmission for the past two years. This is why we saw fewer cases of flu than normal during the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that, so far this season, there have been at least 4.3 million flu illnesses, 42,000 hospitalizations, and 2,500 deaths from flu—22 of which were children. Maybe those numbers don’t seem like much, but I can guarantee you that it matters if your loved one was one of those statistics.
Even one death is too many from a vaccine-preventable disease. I know this firsthand as my 5-year old son, Joseph, was a healthy little boy when we lost him to the flu. Although Joseph received his seasonal flu vaccine in 2009, that season’s vaccine was not designed to protect against the pandemic H1N1 strain that ultimately took his life.
Typically, this is when we wrap up flu season, but now it seems we may be on the cusp of a longer one.
The CDC still recommends vaccination as the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu and its complications, and vaccination is recommended so long as flu activity is still ongoing. Other preventive tools for flu include appropriate testing and treatment, i.e., use of prescribed antiviral medications.
And much like we’ve seen changes in the COVID-19 virus, flu viruses can change and evolve from season to season. So, while no vaccine is 100% effective, flu vaccines can prevent serious flu-related outcomes such as hospitalization and death.
Despite what many people may believe, influenza (flu) is not like the common cold. Influenza is a very serious and highly contagious disease that tends to develop quickly, especially in children. Flu can also lead to secondary complications, hospitalization or death, even in otherwise healthy individuals. On average every year in the U.S., over 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized and over 100 children die from flu and its complications. According to the CDC, 80 percent of pediatric flu deaths over the past decade have been in unvaccinated children, many of whom were otherwise healthy.
Thanks to science, we have safe and effective vaccines available to help protect us and our loved ones from a long list of diseases that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, and even death.
The U.S. is not alone, flu activity is still ongoing in Europe and China and in the Southern Hemisphere they’re seeing an early start to the flu season.
The bottom line is annual vaccination is the most important tool we have in our fight against flu, no matter what time of year you choose to receive it. Protect yourself and your loved ones and if you’ve not been vaccinated for the flu this year—do it now. And if you have, mark your calendar for next fall and continue that protection.
To learn more about flu, please visit vaccinateyourfamily.org.
Serese Marotta is the Director of Community Outreach & Advocacy at Vaccinate Your Family.