The start of fall can be a busy time. In addition to kids going back to school, cheering on your favorite football team and hauling out the Halloween decorations, making sure your family gets their annual flu vaccinations should be added to the top of the always-growing to-do list.
While the flu typically starts to appear in early fall, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May. In fact, last flu season was 21 weeks – the longest flu season in ten years, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even in March of 2019, flu activity was widespread in 34 states and Puerto Rico.
“Flu viruses circulate well into the new year and beyond, but we tend to see vaccination rates drop following the Thanksgiving holiday,’’ says Monica Mercer, MD, Sanofi Pasteur’s Director of Scientific and Medical Affairs. “It’s a good idea to get your flu shot before the virus hits your community, but it doesn’t strike everywhere at once. So, if you haven’t been vaccinated by the holidays or the new year, don’t skip it. It’s still important to get your flu shot.’’
Dangers of Flu for High-Risk Groups
Every year, tens of thousands of people fall ill from the flu, missing school, work, travel and other day-to-day activities and plans, crowding hospitals and, in some cases, suffering lasting health effects and even death. The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccination for everyone eligible from 6 months of age and older. There are certain groups who are at increased risk for flu related complications, including:
- Adults 50 years of age and older
- People of any age with chronic diseases
- Immunocompromised persons
- Pregnant women
- Young children
The flu can make existing health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes, worse. Getting vaccinated is the best way to help protect against the flu. Preventing the flu also helps to reduce the risk of hospitalization and dying from the flu, especially for older adults and others at higher risk for flu-related complications.
Multiple studies have found an increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the first few days following a flu infection. In a study of 1,277 adults without a prior history of heart attack and 762 adults without a prior history of stroke, the risk of these conditions was approximately 10X and 8X higher, respectively, in the 3 days after influenza infection.
The Flu is Serious – Prioritize Flu Vaccination
The CDC says throughout the 2017-2018 flu season, an estimated 48.8 million people were sick with the flu and 79,400 died.
“Do not underestimate the seriousness of flu,’’ urges Mercer. “Even in healthy people in the prime of life, a bout of the flu can typically last one to two weeks and cause severe respiratory symptoms.’’
"Do what the CDC recommends and get the flu vaccine as soon as you can to help prevent flu," Mercer advises. “And if you are unable to receive the vaccine in early fall, don’t give up. Get the vaccine when you can, to help protect yourself and those around you.’’