Officials urge vaccination during worst flu season in years

Health officials report that the current flu season is one of the “worst in years” and are urging residents, especially those in high-risk groups, to get vaccinated.

“On an average year anywhere between 15 and 36 million Americans get the flu,” said Dr. David D.Watson, medical director for the emergency department at Grady Memorial Hospital in Delaware. “Between 150 and 170,000 get hospitalized with the flu and between 12 and 50,000 die of the flu. That’s on average, and we are in a much worse year for it. We’re in probably the worst flu season we’ve had in six or seven years.”

The Delaware General Health District reported on Feb. 16 that there had been 119 flu-associated hospitalizations since Oct. 1, 2017, and said the previous five-year average for hospitalizations for the same period was 28.6 cases.

The health district also reports there have been three flu-related deaths since October.

Watson explained that there are two types of flu, flu A and flu B, and he said the effectiveness of the flu vaccine this year has played a role in the increased number of cases. Watson said vaccines are typically between 10 to 60 percent effective, and he said this year’s flu A vaccine has only been 30 percent effective.

However, Watson added, the vaccine for flu B is about 50 percent effective, and he expects the flu B season won’t be as severe.

“Even when the vaccine effectiveness is low, studies have shown that people who get vaccinated have less hospitalization, less death, and less complications of the flu,” Watson said. “It’s the complications of the flu that are worrisome. Post flu pneumonia, heart inflammation, brain inflammation — all the bad stuff. Even when you get vaccinated, even in a low effectiveness year, it decreases those complications.”

Traci Whittaker, public information officer at the health district, agreed and said vaccinations may reduce the severity and the risk of hospitalization if you were to get sick with that particular strain.

“Getting vaccinated also helps protect those around you, including those that are more vulnerable to severe flu illness such as babies, young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions,” Whittaker said. “If you are sick, please resist from visiting long-term care facilities because the majority of the people who live in these type of facilities are more susceptible to the flu and other viruses.”

Watson said everyone is different when it comes to the flu, but he said the typical symptoms of the flu are stuffy nose, ear ache, scratchy throat, cough, body aches and nausea. Watson said individuals in high-risk groups should seek treatment immediately if they develop symptoms, just to be safe.

Watson said hydration is crucial to treat the flu, and he recommended taking medication and staying home and resting if you get the flu.

“This is not something where you want to tough it out and go to work,” Watson said. “Not only does your body need to heal itself, you are very contagious. You want your co-workers to stay healthy, and it is airborne.”

Watson also recommended frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.


By Glenn Battishill

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Contact Glenn Battishill at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.