With this year’s flu season currently at its peak, Dr. David Banach of UConn Health’s Division of Infectious Diseases discusses the latest information.
Q. How effective is the flu vaccine this season?
A. Contrary to some media reports, the flu vaccine efficacy of 49 percent is actually relatively high. The vaccine’s effectiveness rate thus far has actually been equal to or better than several prior years. This vaccine success rate defines its effectiveness as a tool in preventing doctor’s office visits for flu infection. It is difficult to determine the true effectiveness of a flu vaccine in any given year until flu season is actually over. This year’s strains included in the flu vaccine are based on global data collected identifying the most common flu strains causing illness and the anticipated spread of different flu strains. Some years these forecasts are more accurate than other years, though this year’s match has been better than in the recent past. The dominant strain this flu season has been Influenza A H3N2, which was included in the vaccine.
Q. What is the state of the flu in Connecticut and nationally?
A. We are not out of the woods yet. We are still in the peak of flu season. At this time, flu transmission is widespread in Connecticut and throughout most of the United States and the CDC estimates that flu activity will remain high for several more weeks this season.
Q. What are the warning signs of the flu?
A. Symptoms of the flu include quick onset of fever, headaches, and muscle fatigue. A dry cough may also occur. Along with identifying symptoms of illness, people should consider whether they have been in recent contact with someone who has been sick with flu symptoms, which would increase the risk of becoming infected themselves.
Q. When should someone seek medical attention for the flu?
A. People with severe flu symptoms and those who have other medical conditions or weakened immune systems, should seek medical attention to be tested and determine whether antiviral medications should be considered. Older patients, young children, and pregnant women are at risk for flu complications, and should seek medical attention if they think they are infected. Most patients with the flu gradually recover within two to five days, although a small number of patients may have a slower recovery, or post-infection symptoms of fatigue and weakness lasting several weeks.
Q. Are there still ways to protect ourselves from the flu this year?
A. In addition to receiving the flu vaccine if you haven’t already had it, and encouraging individuals with whom you have close contact to be vaccinated, basic infection prevention practices can help reduce transmission of the flu. These include frequent hand washing, and avoiding people who are sick, when possible. It is difficult to predict when flu season will end, but estimates report that we can expect at least several more weeks of flu activity, so it is not too late to receive the vaccine or take precautions.
Q. What important role do each of us play in limiting the spread of flu?
A. Employees and especially healthcare staff should not go to work if they are feeling ill, in order to avoid spreading the flu virus to others. Healthcare staff have a special role in preventing influenza spread, and have the opportunity to protect themselves, their families, their co-workers and their patients from becoming infected. This is why the flu vaccination is so important for anyone working in a healthcare setting.