The flu continues to wreak havoc across the United States with every state except Hawaii reporting widespread flu activity. And if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you might be wondering is it too late to get the flu shot?
The flu’s not just causing school shutdowns and lost productivity: 30 children have died from flu-related complications since Oct. 1, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control — including 10 reports within the past week.
Why is the flu so bad this year?
The 2018 flu season is expected to be twice as bad as last year’s because the dominating flu strain — H3N2 — is particularly devastating, especially for the young and elderly. The other complication: This year’s flu vaccine is less effective. Flu vaccines are typically grown in chicken eggs and the virus mutated while the vaccine was being incubated, according to National Geographic, making it less effective.
“They’re seeing that it’s anywhere from 10 to 33 percent effective, so anytime there’s a mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating strain of the flu, you’re going to see more cases,” Jennifer Radtke, manager for infection prevention at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, told USA Today earlier this month.
Is it too late to get the flu shot?
The flu shot might be only 30 percent effective, but experts say it’s better than nothing.
“If you’re talking about protection and issues about how you try to keep your loved ones as healthy as possible, the number one is still getting the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatrician and the clinical lead of Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Flu Vaccine Program, told ABC News. “Some protection is better than no protection.”
And it’s not too late to get it.
Flu shots get a big marketing push in the fall and early winter because it takes your body some time to build up the antibodies to block the virus. The thought is that by getting it earlier, you’re more protected against it. But flu season can run as late as May — and that’s still a few months away.
“The circulating influenza A H3N2 strain will likely continue to be circulating for the next couple months,” Pritish K. Tosh, MD, a Mayo Clinic infectious disease physician and researcher, told Health. “And if somebody hasn’t gotten infected yet, there’s still time to get infected. Therefore, getting the vaccine may help prevent infection and serious complications.”
Everyone six months and older should get the flu shot, according to the CDC.
“The flu shot cannot make a child sick,” Don Schaffer, managing partner of Pediatrics of Greater Houston, told ABC News. “There’s no reason to not give it and give your child every advantage they can.”
How to recognize flu symptoms
The flu has claimed the lives of otherwise healthy people, including a 21-year-old bodybuilder from Pennsylvania who died from septic shock in December a few days after coming down with flu-like symptoms.
“Classic flu feels like you’ve been hit by a truck because it’s abrupt onset, high fever, cough, sore throat and all over body aches,” Joshua Schaffzin, pediatric infectious diseases physician and director of infection, prevention and control at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told ABC News. “It’s very striking for parents because their kid is running around and all of a sudden they don’t want to get out of bed.”
Get medical care if you’re showing the symptoms, no matter if it’s at your doctor’s office, urgent care center or, for really bad symptoms, the emergency room.
And do what you can to prevent the spread of disease by practicing good hygiene and staying home from school or work when you’re sick.