By: Kendra Findley, Health Program Administrator
Every year we see influenza, or the flu, infect the people around us. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and lungs of those who are unfortunate enough to contract it. Flu typically spreads to others through droplets expelled when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes, or talks.
Other times, a person can touch a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touch their own mouth, nose, or eyes and cause illness.
The 2021–2022 flu season here in Springfield saw more flu cases than previous years. In Week 50 of the 2021–2022 flu season, there were over 452 cases in comparison to the 83 seen in the same week of the 2019–2020 flu season.
While even experts can’t completely predict how severe a flu season will be, there are a few hints to look out for including how other countries are faring in their respective flu seasons. The Northern Hemisphere typically has its flu season from October to May, and from April to September in the Southern Hemisphere.
For example, Australia’s flu season typically begins in June, but began several weeks early this year in April. An early start to a flu season can indicate a more severe season as well as a more susceptible population.
We also need to take into consideration that previous protection measures in place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer in effect and as a result can strengthen spread of other illnesses like influenza. Last year, protections like face masks were loosely used before the spread of the omicron variant, which may have played a part in the significant spread of the flu in our area.
So, what does this mean for us this season?
Once again, it’s hard to completely predict what the flu season will look like but considering the severe flu season happening in other parts of the world, it’s safe to make a guess that we’re more than likely going to have a rough season here.
That’s why being as prepared as possible is the best way to protect yourself and community.
Seasonal flu vaccines are designed to protect against the four main types of flu Type A and Type B viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each of the four vaccine virus components are chosen based on four main components:
1. Which flu viruses are making people sick prior to the upcoming flu season
2. How severely those viruses are spreading prior to the upcoming flu season
3. The success of the previous season’s flu vaccine against the flu viruses
4. The ability of cross-protection against a range of related flu viruses of the same type or subtype/lineage
The influenza vaccine can be given — and is recommended! — to anyone over the age of 6 months unless under rare circumstances. Since the flu season begins by November, the CDC recommends getting the flu shot in September or October to give your body time to build antibodies.
Of course, even if you get your flu shot later in the season there’s still time to build an immune response. Always talk to your doctor about getting your influenza shot if you have concerns.
In the case of getting your flu shot, it’s predominantly better to get it late than to never get it at all.