Until the last several weeks, flu season has been relatively mild across most of the U.S. and Florida, and this is typically when we would begin to wrap up flu season. However, it seems we may be on the cusp of a longer season. According to the CDC, flu activity is still on the rise in some areas of the country.
There are several potential reasons this could be happening, but the most likely culprit is the rollback of COVID protective measures (e.g., masking) and our general return to pre-pandemic activities such as gathering with loved ones and traveling. The measures put in place to protect against COVID also helped limit flu transmission for the past two years, which is why we saw fewer cases of flu than normal during the pandemic.
The CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 3.8 million cases of the flu, 38,000 hospitalizations and 2,300 deaths from flu—16 of which were children. Maybe those numbers don’t seem like much, but even one death from a vaccine-preventable disease is too many. I know this firsthand; my son Joseph was a healthy five-year-old when we lost him to the flu. Although Joseph received his flu vaccine in 2009, that season’s vaccine was not designed to protect against the H1N1 strain that ultimately took his life.
Despite what many people may believe, the flu is not just a bad version of the common cold. It’s 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., more than 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized and more than 100 children die from flu and its complications. According to the CDC, approximately 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 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. 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 percent effective, flu vaccines can prevent serious flu-related outcomes such as hospitalization and death. Other preventive tools for flu include appropriate testing and treatment, i.e., use of prescribed antiviral medications.
The bottom line is that 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. If you or your loved ones have not been vaccinated for the flu this year, do it now. And if you have, mark your calendar for this fall and continue that protection.
To learn more about flu, please visit https://vaccinateyourfamily.org/vaccines-diseases/current-flu-season/.
Serese Marotta is the director of community outreach and advocacy for Vaccinate Your Family, an organization that strives to educate the public about the critical importance of timely vaccinations for people of all ages.
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