As we inch closer to the end of the year, we’re bombarded with endless reminders about something or other, big, small or silly. We’re told that it’s time to turn clocks back to standard time; that it’s almost Thanksgiving; that the holidays are getting close. Well, here’s a reminder that if you’re not paying attention, you might do well to take heed. The flu season is closer than you think, and a flu shot might be worth considering.
Of course, getting vaccinated for flu is a personal choice. But the Centers for Disease Control highly recommends that, unless you have certain allergies, including “severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine,” are allergic to ingredients in the vaccine or are younger than six months in age, getting the shot is probably a good idea. Why? Because every year the flu is fatal for many of its victims.
What exactly is the flu or, more formally, influenza? Flu is a respiratory infection that originates as a virus. It’s airborne and enters the body through the mouth or nasal passage. Basically, you breathe it in. Once in your system, it comes on suddenly. What follows are symptoms that include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, achiness, headaches and fatigue. It can last from a few days to as long as two weeks. It can be miserable. It can also lead to pneumonia or worse.
Because the colder months are when people are spending more time inside, the chances of infection go up. People are coughing and sneezing, and it takes only a microscopic exchange of the virus to infect a person or group of people.
No one is expecting anything close to what the U.S. and the world experienced in 1918 when what has become known as ‘the Great Influenza’ hit. That outbreak caused the death of an estimated 50 million people worldwide. In October 1918 alone, 195,000 Americans died from influenza. The virus accounted for 600,000 fatalities that year.
So great was the impact from that anomalous outbreak that American funeral homes could not keep up with the sheer numbers of dead and coffin manufacturers could not keep up with demand.
Health experts often gauge the U.S. flu season by the toll it’s taken on Australia, the country from where it usually migrates. The template is not exact for what awaits here, but it does provide a reasonable indicator, said Dr. Wlliam Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University. This year’s flu hit Australia particularly hard. But the vaccine used there, said the CDC, was also effective.
Colorado officially entered the flu season the end of September. There is no indication of what 2019-20’s flu impact will have on the state. But according to state health, there were 3,825 hospitalizations from flu last season, a number “reflective of a slightly more moderate flu season.” The previous year, however, saw a record number of hospitalizations, with nearly 4,700 victims. Flu season usually peaks in late December or January.
“Our current flu vaccine,” said Susie Lederer, Clinic Administrator for Immunization and Travel for Denver Health, “will be a pretty good match for the strain out there.” This year’s vaccine is what is known as a quadrivalent formula, that is, aimed at fighting four strains of influenza, two ‘A’ strains and two ‘B’ strains.
The immunization clinic at Denver Health and Hospitals is now offering flu shots, she said. The clinic will do everything possible to meet the needs of those who want the shot, including offering low or no cost inoculations. Lederer expects that “tens of thousands” will get the flu shot at the Denver Health Clinic.
In some years, vaccine availability has been a challenge. But that does not appear to be the case this flu season in the large cities along the Front Range. Pueblo County’s Department of Public Health reports that it has “vaccine available for uninsured adults, as well as children who have Medicaid or are uninsured.” The Department is also urging “everyone get a flu shot as soon as possible.” Early vaccine allows the shot’s antibodies to begin building up before peak flu season hits. It usually takes about two weeks for them to reach maximum protection levels. To date, there have been no reports of flu in the county.
While the overwhelming number of health care professionals recommend getting the flu shot, there is also a growing community of people who believe vaccines cause more harm than good. They believe that the ingredients in vaccines can cause other more serious health problems that create other health problems, autism among the most serious. Some also think vaccines compromise immune systems and that natural immunity is better than the immunity provided in a shot.
“If someone is very stubborn about this, it’s probably hard to sway them,” said Lederer. “But we take them (concerns) seriously and we listen.”