The 2017 – 2018 flu season had a bad rap, but does it deserve it? Yes and no. Philadelphia County experienced 4,418 reported cases of flu. Mind you, these are the people who were able to drag themselves to the doctor to be tested — the actual number may be higher.
In fact, according to IBX Medical Director Ellen Riccobene, January through June of this year, 15,286 members received evaluation in an Urgent Care setting for an influenza related illness, 6,941 were seen in an Emergency Department, and another 1,489 members required admission to a hospital for an influenza related illness. “It was so bad last year that we had a meeting to talk about what to do if it became an epidemic,” said Dr. Riccobene.
So what can we do to keep ourselves healthy this year? Well, the same things we did last year. Here’s why.
Understand How Flu Shots Work
Let’s look at the flu vaccine itself. Flu vaccines change their formula from year to year. Why? Because the virus itself changes. Dr. Riccobene notes that flu vaccine developers look at which strains of flu are present in other countries when creating vaccines for the upcoming year. In other words, the flu shots that we’ll take this fall are being developed now.
According to the CDC the 2017 – 2018 flu vaccine was 36 percent effective. That’s down a few points from previous years, but not far off the average. Among the overall U.S. population, the flu shot will reduce the risk of getting flu between 40 and 60 percent, making the flu shot a good bet any year.
Get Your Flu Shot ASAP
Officially, flu season begins in October and ends in May. But Dr. Riccobene observes that the 2017 – 2018 flu season ran late, peaking in severity between February and March. It can take three to six weeks after the shot to be fully protected, so get your flu shot as early as you can. That one shot will protect you for the entire season, no matter how long it is.
While the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s still our best defense, and worth getting for three big reasons:
- It can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations, especially among kids, older people, and those with diabetes or chronic lung disease.
- If you get a flu shot and still end up getting the flu, you may get a milder case.
- It protects people close to you, in particular babies and people with certain chronic health conditions. Remember: You’re not just getting the flu shot for yourself.
Keep Washing Those Hands
The same common sense applies every year: To prevent the spread of flu, wash, wash, wash with soap and water. This includes your hands, your desk, and anything you touch regularly during flu season. If possible, the CDC recommends working from home. And if you suspect that your child has the flu, keep him or her home, too.
The flu — and the flu vaccine — may change every year, but one thing stays constant: The flu vaccine is always a good idea.