A Preview of the 2018-2019 Flu Season

As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, it’s time to think about a lot of things: Including flu season.

The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the most severe we’ve seen at South Shore Health in recent years. According to our data, through April 2018 we nearly doubled the amount of positive tests for Influenza A and B from the year before.

Here are a few answers to some questions I’ve heard about the upcoming flu season.

How effective is this year’s flu vaccine?
It’s still too early to know how effective this year’s flu vaccine will be. While there was a lot of grousing about the performance of the 2017-2018 flu vaccine, the CDC estimates it still reduced the number of patients that needed medical care due to the flu by 40 percent. If you had a 40 percent chance of winning the lottery, you’d certainly play, right? Be sure to get your family vaccinated.

When should I get my flu shot?
Some people like to wait until late fall or early winter to get the shot to ensure it’s effective for the full season. The CDC advises patients to receive the vaccine by end of October. This balances the need for everyone over six months of age to be vaccinated with the understanding that immunity does wane over the season.

Can I get FluMist this year?
FluMist is back after not being recommended for two seasons in a row due to lack of effectiveness. It is once again recommended in non-pregnant, non-asthmatic children and adults ages 2-50.

I’ve seen signs that there are special shots for seniors. What’s that about?
There are two forms of high-dose flu vaccine approved for patients aged 65 and older. The CDC does not have preference for high dose versus normal dose vaccine in this population. Studies as to whether high-dose vaccine is more effective at reducing influenza provide conflicting results.

We know that the immune response is greater with a high-dose vaccine, but that does mean there tends to be more side effects. I typically recommend a high-dose shot to my older patients, but be sure to talk to your doctor about whether it’s right for you.

Where can I get my flu shot?
Patients of South Shore Medical Center can schedule their flu shots now. If you’re not a patient of the Medical Center, click here to learn more about becoming a patient. Many pharmacies also offer flu vaccines, and your insurance likely covers the full cost of the vaccine.

Here’s hoping for a mild flu season this year.

Dr. Todd Ellerin is Director of Infectious Disease at South Shore Health.