When Does the Flu Season Start?
The flu season is predictably unpredictable. We know each year that we will suffer a flu epidemic – we just don’t know exactly how early or late the epidemic will occur and we don’t know whether the epidemic will be particularly severe or not. On average, the flu starts to circulate in the community late in the year, peaks in January or early February, and is on the wane by late in February or early in March.
Typically, the flu season doesn’t kick into high gear until late fall or winter. When should parents start vaccinating their children?
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine is thought to last at least six to eight months. Therefore, it is okay to get the vaccine early in the fall as soon as it becomes available. It takes about two weeks for the body to respond to the vaccine and develop protective antibodies – so for sure you want to get the vaccine a couple of weeks before the epidemic hits. I think October is a great month to get the flu shot.
Why are more pediatricians encouraging families to get kids vaccinated earlier?
Children are often incubators for community influenza outbreaks. Kids transmit the virus between themselves in the classrooms and then the kids take the flu home to their parents and other adults in the family. In fact, we monitor school absenteeism as a marker for flu activity in the community. Therefore, if we can interrupt influenza transmission in kids in the classroom, we can blunt transmission throughout the adult community as well. So, get your kids vaccinated in the fall when it is convenient. Don’t wait until late in the year when the flu virus has already made its appearance. A good reason to get kids vaccinated is so they do not transmit the virus to more vulnerable elderly persons.
What are some of the newer vaccines on the market for folks to consider?
There are increasing options:
- For folks who don’t like needles, there is an intradermal vaccine that utilizes a very small needle that causes less discomfort at the time of administration. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending that the nasal vaccine should not be used this year due to evidence that it hasn’t worked as well over the last few years. Scientists are still looking into the full reasons for this failure in hopes that it will give clues on how to develop an even more effective vaccine.
- For persons with serious egg allergies (Many of the flu vaccines are raised in chicken eggs and thus, there may be very small levels of egg protein in the vaccine.), there is now a flu vaccine preparation using more advanced technology that is completely egg-free.
- For the elderly, there is a higher titer vaccine that may offer greater protection for the less robust immune systems that we see in the aged.
- Most flu shots now have four strains of flu (two A strains and two B strains – quadrivalent vaccine). This should result in better protection against the B strains because previously there was only one B strain included in the vaccine.
Why get vaccinated? What will it help prevent?
Very simply, the influenza shot is the best way to prevent the flu. The vaccine is not perfect, but it is very safe and helps to prevent the flu and complications from the flu. Keep in mind, the flu shot only protects against influenza – not other respiratory viruses. So it is possible to get the flu vaccine and still get sick from other types of respiratory viruses (for example, the flu shot won’t stop you from catching a cold).
Is there still a chance that you could get the flu even after a person has received a flu shot?
The vaccine is not 100 percent effective. However, it is our best weapon to prevent the flu. Effectiveness of the vaccine varies a bit from year to year and depends on the strain of flu that is circulating in the community and how healthy you are (how well your body responds to the vaccine). In general terms, the vaccine is about 60 to 70 percent effective in preventing influenza. However, keep in mind that even if flu is not completely prevented, the illness may be lessened – what doctors call an attenuation. This means you’ll feel less ill and get better more quickly.
Is flu a serious illness? Why should an otherwise healthy person be worried about the flu?
Influenza is a serious disease. On average, about 25,000 persons die from flu or complications of flu each year – this varies from about 3,000 deaths in a very mild flu season to about 50,000 deaths in a more severe flu epidemic year. Mortality usually occurs in the elderly or those with underlying illness – lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer or immunosuppressive disorders. However, about 10 to 15 percent of young healthy persons who experience the flu will also suffer a complication of the flu such as a sinus infection, an ear ache, or a more severe complication such as pneumonia. Therefore, it is wise for even young and healthy persons to get a yearly flu shot.
Do the right thing for you, your children, and for other vulnerable people – get a flu shot!
Watch this video from for more details about the flu vaccine.