The Flu: Looking Back and Getting Ahead
Looking Back on the 2017-2018 Season
Many think of flu season as wintertime only, however, influenza virus circulates year-round. The last season peaked in February, but flu was still being reported months later. This past season was one of the deadliest on record with over 170 pediatric deaths, attributable to a very active pandemic year. It is important to understand that the status as a pandemic year was NOT because the flu vaccine was less effective against one of the included strains, as was widely misunderstood. Over 80 percent of last season’s deaths were in individuals who did not get the vaccine.
For those that say they are less likely to get vaccinated because they believe it was not effective last year, the very opposite should be true - this past season has reminded us of a very stark reality: the flu virus is deadly and we should do all we can to prevent it.
Recommendations for the 2018-2019 Season
For the upcoming season, a few recommendations have not changed from last year. The annual influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone six months of age and older. The American Academy of Pediatrics is again recommending that the inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV 3/4), known as the “flu shot,” should be the primary choice for all children.
The major change for this season is that the live attenuated intranasal vaccine (LAIV4), known as “flu mist,” is again available for limited use. It was previously not recommended because it was inferior against influenza for the past few seasons. This year, it is simply unknown for its effectiveness but may be offered to children who meet eligibility criteria and would not otherwise receive flu vaccine.
Your health care provider can assist in the decision, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending the “flu shot” as the first choice for all children. The “flu mist” will not be offered at every location, so patients should check with their provider ahead of time to make sure it is available.
The AAP and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) will have real-time surveillance data available throughout the upcoming season and will update recommendations as appropriate.
Common Flu Myths
As a pediatrician, I hear the following statements from patients and families, and I want to ensure everyone is fully informed based on science and experience. Here are a few of the most common myths I hear:
The flu vaccination gave me the flu.
This is actually impossible. The injectable vaccine contains nothing that can grow in the body. It is an inactivated form of the virus and cannot give anyone the flu.
The flu mist is a live attenuated version of the virus which is deactivated at the body’s core temperature. It is administered in the nasal passage which is much cooler than the body’s core temperature. As a precaution, it cannot be given to high risk individuals.
I’ve never had the flu, so I don’t need the vaccine.
This is, simply, good luck. Continue to be vigilant with good hand hygiene and stay away from those infected, but still, the vaccination is the best preventative method to avoid getting the flu.
It’s better to get the flu and let the body’s natural defense take care of it.
The flu is a deadly virus. It is never better to get a deadly virus in your system and hope your body’s natural defense is up to par. And should your body build a defense against one strain of the flu, remember the vaccine will administer defense against several different strains. In some seasons, two or three strains will circulate.
I don’t want to get the vaccine too early.
It’s never too early or too late to get the flu vaccination. It is both safe and effective – I strongly recommend getting your immunization every year.