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Why was the last flu season so bad and what can be expected this year?

September 27, 2018

Fall is rapidly approaching and while it brings much anticipated cooler temperatures, it also brings about something else: the dreaded flu season.  You may remember that last year’s flu season was pretty crummy — in fact, it was one of the worst on record. Why was the last flu season so lousy and what can be expected this year?

The 2017 – 2018 flu season was particularly bad because the prevalent strain was the H3N2, which tends to be more severe and causes more severe symptoms than other strains of flu.  In fact, flu seasons when the H3N2 strain dominates tend to have higher overall flu hospitalization and death rates, according to the CDC.  It isn’t a case of manufacturer’s choosing the wrong strain to develop a vaccine, but rather this interesting tidbit:  in order to develop a vaccine each year, manufacturers use chicken eggs to "grow" the flu virus strains. During this process, the flu strains may acquire genetic changes that make the strains slightly different from those in circulation — which happened with the H3N2 component of last year's flu vaccine, making it slightly more ineffective.

What can we expect this year?

This year, the official kickoff for the new flu season is early October, but the flu is technically around all year. The single best way to prevent your family or you from contracting the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season, and flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.  The CDC emphasizes that the benefits of flu vaccinations are numerous and well researched:  they can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization; they are an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions; vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy; and, getting vaccinated also protects people around you who are more susceptible to illness, such as babies, young children and seniors.

If you contract the flu, you can infect others one day before showing symptoms and up to seven days after becoming sick.  There are some steps you can take to further protect your family and yourself from the flu and other illnesses:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Carry your own pen. Use it in stores, restaurants, or in the doctor's office.
  3. Keep your hands off your face. Your nose, mouth and eyes are the primary entry points for illness, so keeping your hands away from them lessens the chance of getting ill.
  4. Get a restful night’s sleep, as being well rested increases the body's natural protection against viruses.
  5. Sanitize your cell phone daily. At any given time, there can be over 1 million living germs on your phone.

Again, the best defense against the flu is a vaccination, so schedule your flu shot today at your neighborhood CareWell.  Should illness strike you or a member of your family, we are open extended hours and no appointment is needed.



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