Come this time every year we hear so much about flu season we think “Hey, we got our flu shots,” and tune it out. Well this year, you’re going to want to pay attention. While flu season typically lasts October to May and peaks in February, flu activity is already considered higher than usual in more than 20 states, according to the CDC. And while New Jersey’s flu activity was only considered moderate in late December, new reports as of the week of January 6th now have the Garden State in the “high” category of influenza-like illness as flu cases have been spiking around the country and (wouldn’t you know it) North Jersey’s got it worse than South Jersey.
But wait, the news gets worse. Experts have been warning us for months now that the flu shot might not work all that well this year, and their predictions have, unfortunately, come true. The big bad strain making the rounds this year is called H3N2 and vaccine effectiveness against that strain is lower than against other viruses. Turns out this season’s vaccines may only be about 32 percent effective against H3N2, according to CDC data. So yeah, there’s a decent chance you could come down with the flu even if you’ve gotten the shot. Ugh, we know.
So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family? First off, you should all go get a flu shot if you haven’t already, as it can still help increase your chances of dodging this bullet. According to Ashwin Jathavedam, MD, chief of infectious disease at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, the primary benefits of the flu shot are “to reduce the risk of influenza and to limit the spread of the disease to others who may be at greater risk of serious illness if they fall sick including the elderly, people iwht heart or lung disease and people requiring immunosuppressive medications.” Plus, there are few downsides to vaccination although anyone with allergies to components of the vaccine should not receive the vaccine.
Next, wash your hands constantly and avoid contact with sick people (but you knew that). And finally, know the flu symptoms (check out the list here) and head straight for your doctor’s office if you or a family member starts exhibiting any of them. Waiting until you’re really sick, or “trying to push through” won’t work. This flu strain has proved fatal to at least 20 kids so far, so don’t wait and see. Get thee to the doctor who can prescribe flu antiviral drugs to make symptoms milder and shorten the time you’re down for the count. But remember, these drugs work best if you start taking them within two days of getting sick. Good luck out there and see you on the other side of the Flupocolypse (cough, cough).