Every year, the message hits us along with the cold weather. At work, at school, at the pharmacy and the grocery store, there are reminders all the time: Don’t forget your flu shot!
So maybe you listened. Maybe you were proactive back in October or November, gritted your teeth, rolled up your sleeve and got your shot.
And last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta rewarded your preparedness with an announcement. Turns out that maybe this year’s flu shot isn’t quite the glass slipper for this year’s flu viruses.
“Increasing the risk of a severe flu season is the finding that roughly half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed are drift variants: viruses with antigenic or genetic changes that make them different from that season’s vaccine virus,” the CDC said in a release.
That sounds bad, right? You got the shot and now it won’t work? Don’t jump to that conclusion. The CDC says that, in any given year, the innoculations might protect against three or four different flu viruses, and even if protection from one is lessened, it can still protect against others.
Marlene Stetson, director for infection prevention and control at Mount Nittany Medical Center, says that’s another reason you should still get the flu shot if you haven’t already.
“There may be some cross protection,” she said. “It’s still a really important strategy.”
But it may be important to take extra precautions this year, too.
Stetson recommends being vigilant about washing hands, whether with soap and water or with antibacterial hand sanitizers.
“Social distancing” is another good idea, she said. If you are sick, don’t go around other people. If you know other people are sick, it might be a good idea to send a nice card instead of dropping by the holiday party.
Of course, you can never state the obvious enough. Stetson says that covering your mouth when you cough — either with a tissue or by coughing into the crook of your elbow — can help stop the spread, as can keeping your dirty, germy hands away from your eyes, mouth and nose, where they can deliver the virus into your system.
And who is most at risk? As always, it is those who have compromised immune systems, the elderly, children, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions.
But what if you do get sick? Don’t be a martyr. Stetson says visiting the doctor early can mean a shorter bout of illness thanks to antiviral drugs like Tamiflu.
The CDC says flu activity is “currently low” in the U.S. but starting to increase in some areas.