Reading the articles about the 2017-18 flu season, you’ll see headlines like “potential for nasty winter season”, and “why we may be in for a miserable flu season”. (I don’t think I’ve seen a “good” flu season). During every flu season there are hospitalizations and deaths that occur.
The 2017-18 seasonal flu season in the Northern hemisphere is beginning now. Experts are warning that we may be in for a nasty flu season. Our flu season begins usually at low levels in October and November, with a rise in December and continuing through April. Flu levels are at low levels at this point with other respiratory viruses circulating. Our season follows the Southern hemisphere’s season, which occurs during our summer, their winter. Looking at how effective the vaccine produced was, against the circulating strains, gives us a glimpse into what ours may look. Australia has recorded over 200,000 flu cases so far in 2017, which is more than any of their other flu seasons. Based upon Australia’s experience, we may have a higher number of cases, but nothing is certain.
To arrive at our flu season with our flu vaccine, we need to go back and see how the vaccine is made. Every year a new flu vaccine is made. Influenza is a virus and viruses like to change, or mutate, hence the need to tweak the vaccine components each year. Flu season is a year- long event where the Southern hemisphere has their season before the Northern hemisphere. This is during our summer, and their winter. Scientists study which viruses are circulating, number of hospitalizations, and deaths. Year round the World Health Organization (WHO) has sentinel sites in 113 different countries which collect surveillance information about circulating viruses, severity, and how well the vaccine matches those strains. These small centers send their information to one of the WHO Collaborating Centers on Influenza: Atlanta GA, London, Melbourne, Tokyo, and Beijing. Scientists from each of the 5 sites meet twice each year, in February and again in September first to determine what will compose the Northern hemisphere’s vaccine, and then to determine the following year’s Southern hemisphere vaccine. As you see, there is lag time in the production of the vaccines until they are given to people. The scientists have to choose what they feel will be the predominant strains and hope that when they get to people the virus hasn’t changed much. There is a lot of predicting going into flu vaccine development which happens months in advance for a virus that loves to change.
There are 3 types of influenza virus: A, B, and C. The dominant strains we are beginning to see now are A H3N2 (Singapore), A H1N1 (Michigan), and B (Phuket). This presents a bit of a problem as the H3N2 strain is not an exact match as the H3N2 that is in the vaccine, which is A H3N2 (Hong Kong). It is very similar but not exact. But is it worth getting? Yes, of course it is worth it. It may not be the optimal vaccine, but it will provide good coverage. And while it may not match exactly, it will lessen the severity of the infection. Everyone 6 months and older should receive a flu vaccine before the end of October. Pregnant women, those with underlying health conditions, the young, and the elderly should all make sure to receive their vaccine. It is not only for your protection, but for those around you that can’t receive the vaccine. There are some additional activities that we should take to prevent flu and other respiratory viruses:
- Avoid close contact.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose, sneeze into your sleeve.
- Wash your hands.
- Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching the T-Zone- Eyes, Nose, and Mouth.
- Practice good health habits
- Here’s why Canada may be in for a miserable 2017-18 flu season. Carmen Chai. Global News
- Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines, 2017-18. CDC cdc.gov/flu
- Here’s why the 2017 flu season was so bad. Ian M. Mackay, Katherine Arden. http://theconversation.com/here’s-why-the-2017-flu-season-was-so-bad
- WHO swaps out H3N2, B strains in Southern Hemisphere flu vaccine. Lisa Schnirring CIDRAP News cidrap.umn.edu
- How Are Seasonal Flu Vaccines Made? Sabrina Stierwalt Quick and Dirty Tips. Com
About the Author
Lisa A. Mack MS, MPH is an Epidemiologist and Communicable Disease Investigator. In addition, she is a certified HIV counselor and tester in a county sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic. She received a Master of Science degree (Epidemiology) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, School of Public Health and a Master of Public Health degree (Epidemiology) from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health.
Her current research interest is investigating the antibacterial properties of essential oils to be used in treating multidrug resistant bacteria (MRSA, MSSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, etc.) in the healthcare setting. She loves germs, diseases, public health, educating & empowering people about their health and well-being. Public Health Rocks!