Along with cooler temperatures, the return of football season and pumpkins galore, the flu season has returned, and now is the time to make sure your family is protected.
According to Elizabeth Mack, M.D., the “flu is already circulating in South Carolina, and it’s time for flu shots.”
Elizabeth Mack, M.D., is an MUSC board-certified pediatric critical care physician, who is also division director of pediatric critical care medicine at MUSC Children’s Health and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
She said that it’s important for everyone 6 months of age and older to get the flu shot, and that includes children, adults, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. It’s particularly important for people who are around babies under 6 months old to be vaccinated, because infants that young can’t get the shot, and people who have immunocompromised family members.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 134 confirmed cases of children dying of influenza during the 2018-2019 flu season.
While influenza and timing is not predictable, it can vary in different countries. Seasonal flu can be found year-round, but activity usually begins in October and November and as late as May. Typically, it peaks between December and February.
This year, the shot protects against four strains, including two strains that weren’t in last year’s vaccines, Mack said.
Since there are many flu viruses, you may be exposed to a flu virus that isn’t included in the four strains. She said it is possible to get the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated, but it is likely to be a milder case.
She added, “It’s not possible for the flu shot to give you the flu because the shot contains only inactivated virus, and it is incredibly safe.” People tend to think the flu shot gave them the flu because flu and flu-like viruses are circulating during the season we administer flu shots, so it isn’t uncommon people will have a virus around the time they get the shot.
In addition to protecting children and families by receiving the vaccination, other safeguards should also be taken. For example, stay away from sick people and wash your hands often to reduce the spread of germs. If you become sick with flu, stay home to avoid spreading it to others. Also, there are antiviral drugs like Tamiflu that can treat the flu, especially if it is caught early, but they are not substitutes for being vaccinated.
Mack said, antivirals have side effects, can be expensive and can also be in short supply.
Flu vaccines are readily available in pediatric physician offices, clinics, workplaces, pharmacies and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control health centers. Most insurance plans will cover the cost of vaccination.
The MUSC Children’s Health After Hours Care Clinics in Mount Pleasant, North Charleston (Summey Medical Pavilion) and Summerville are also offering flu shots to patients this season. Call 843-876-2222 for information.
If you have questions about the flu season, multiple resources are available including https://www.musckids.org, https://www.scdhec.gov/health/flu/flu-vaccine, https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/immunizations/Influenza-Implementation-Guidance/Pages/default.aspx, or https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.