It’s no secret that this year’s flu season has been worse than usual, with some experts claiming it to be one of the worst flu seasons in more than a decade.
Walgreens Flu Index data, updated every Tuesday, has Utah ranked number nine in the country for flu activity, and higher flu prevalence means certain populations are more at risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza, commonly called the flu, is more likely to cause illness that results in hospitalization in pregnant people than in those who are not. Flu may also reportedly be harmful for a pregnant person’s developing baby.
A common flu symptom is fever, which has been associated in some studies with “neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes” for a developing baby, the CDC states. Amazingly enough, experts say that getting vaccinated during pregnancy also can help protect a baby from the flu during the first several months after birth. The science behind this is that the pregnant parent passes antibodies on to the developing baby during pregnancy. Likewise, people who get the flu vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding also develop antibodies that they can share with their infants through their breast milk.
Officials are urging the public to get flu shots, and the good news, according to the CDC, is that this year’s flu shot is “appearing to be a very good match” to the influenza strain that is circulating. The flu season is reportedly still beginning, and it’s not too late to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your community from the flu.
The CDC recommends everyone over 6 months of age get vaccinated against the flu, especially for those at higher risk for serious complications, including seniors, children and those with chronic health conditions.
Experts saw this year’s flu season coming, too, warning the country to brace for an exceptionally severe flu season during fall and winter, saying people who have not built up immunity over the last few years will mix and mingle.
The reasons are reportedly that coronavirus restrictions such as wearing masks mean people are more likely to come into contact with the flu virus this year than over the last two years. Additionally, fewer people are likely to be immune from the flu virus this year because fewer people have been getting the flu over the last two years, due to the pandemic lockdown.
Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s infectious diseases department, said the past two flu seasons simply have not seen the same levels of exposure to the flu.
“As a population, our immunity to the flu is down a bit,” Webby said. “When the virus comes back, it’s probably going to have a little bit more room to spread, a little bit more room to potentially cause disease.”
Now, concerns are growing nationwide for rapidly increasing cases of what health officials have deemed a “tripledemic”: the flu, RSV and COVID-19. “Our immune system has not been revved up. The vaccine rates are lower. We are a prime sitting target for other respiratory illnesses as we relax our guard down and begin to have contact with other people,” said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an attending physician in infectious diseases at Northwell Health.
If you do get the flu, the CDC recommends antiviral treatment:
- Influenza antiviral drugs are medicines that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.
- Antiviral drugs can make your flu illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness.
- Treatment with an influenza antiviral drug should begin as soon as possible because these medications work best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
- You need a prescription from a health care provider for an influenza antiviral medication.
- There are four FDA-approved flu antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat the flu.
So stay safe this holiday season, Utahns, and if you get any flu symptoms, which include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue, call your health care provider right away.