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Flu season is approaching

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
September 4, 2020

Entering the fall, we also enter the respiratory viral season (RSV). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website, this “season lasts from fall through spring but varies from year to year and by geographic region.” This is also the timeframe mentioned during the interview with Dr. Gary Green on August 26. Green is an infectious disease doctor at Sutter’s Medical Group of the Redwoods. He also serves as the medical director of infection control for Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital in Sonoma County. He has resided in Sonoma County since 2001.

Every year the medical community urges everyone to get a flu shot. This year is no exception. However, Green said it’s “more important than any other year.” He tracks the flu season very carefully but this year it could be “especially important because of the overlap with the COVID-19 virus.” A flu season on top of that virus “could be problematic,” he said. A flu vaccine is considered a “Standard of Care” preventive measure that should be covered by any type of insurance, including Medicare. It should be available in early September, and the optimal time to get vaccinated is mid-September through early October.

According to Green, getting your flu shot should be as automatic as wearing your seat belt when driving. The goal is safety. The vaccine is not perfect but even if it doesn’t give you full protection, if you get the flu, you’re likely to have a milder case. Many folks think they’ll never get the flu, so they don’t need it. Until they do; then wish they had gotten the shot. Also, remember, like mask wearing during this pandemic, getting your shot also helps prevent the spread to others. That’s called lowering the “transmission rate.” Like COVID-19, the flu is deadly. Each year some 30,000-80,000 deaths are attributable to the flu virus. 

Why don’t folks get a shot? According to Green, there really isn’t any reason not to get one. He said there is a lot of misinformation circulating about the vaccine, amplified by social media. The risk of a major medical problem is less than 1 in 2-5 million. The most common side effect is minor, usually a mild soreness around the injection site. As to the myth that I only get the flu when I get vaccinated, Green said that is not physically, biologically, or chemically possible. The virus in the vaccine is dead. It can’t give you the flu. He also said some folks reporting getting the flu after getting the vaccine may be experiencing another type of respiratory virus such as a Rhinovirus, pneumonia, Bronchitis, or even the common cold.

According to the CDC website “the seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine is designed to protect against the three or four influenza viruses research indicates are most likely to spread and cause illness among people during the upcoming flu season. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine composition is reviewed each year and updated as needed based on which influenza viruses are making people sick, the extent to which those viruses are spreading, and how well the previous season’s vaccine protects against those viruses.” Also, “in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes the final decision about vaccine viruses for influenza vaccines to be sold in the U.S.”

Green advised that this year’s vaccine is comprised of two strains of Influenza A and two of Influenza B. This is added protection this year as previous vaccines would usually only have two A and one B strains. This year, one A strain is H1N1 also known as the Michigan Strain, a type of the swine flu. The other is H3N2 also known as the Singapore Strain. Influenza B strains are Victoria and Yamagata. Victoria infects those under 25 more frequently than older folks. In the 2019-2020 season almost 60 percent of reported flu cases were this type of flu. More information about this season’s vaccine can be found at Preventing Seasonal Flu with Vaccination.

In summary, there is no reason not to get vaccinated. With COVID-19 it’s especially important this year. To prevent the spread of flu, the same precautions you take for COVID-19 can work. With our children out of school, Green and others will be watching to see how that impacts the usual transmission spread during this year’s season because as every parent knows – going back to school is the signal many get that it’s flu season.