Flu season gets early start
ABOUT 55 PEOPLE got their flu shots on Saturday at a clinic held at Vintage House senior center by the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center.
’Tis the season, not only for the holidays but also for sniffles, sneezes and sharing germs. Flu season has hit, arriving earlier than usual, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Activity really started to pick up in mid-November,” said Tom Skinner, spokesman for the CDC, who said there’s no real reason for the premature start. “Each flu season is really unique to itself, there’s no explanation as to why we’ve seen early activity this year.”
Not only did it arrive a bit early, the season is shaping up to be worse than last year. Four states are already reporting widespread flu activity, although not California, which is off to a somewhat normal start.
“There have been no local deaths, and we haven’t seen any outbreaks in Sonoma County,” said Kim Caldewey, program manager with the Sonoma County Department of Health Services. “Our real message is that now is the perfect time to get vaccinated.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC study flu viruses from all over the world, looking at their ability to spread and the frequency with which they appear, in order to determine the mix of viruses to include in the flu vaccine. It is an imperfect science, as medical professionals must make calculated guesses based on last season’s trends. The vaccine is updated annually to reflect current conditions, with 140 influenza viruses detected by U.S. laboratories since Oct. 1, according to the CDC. Skinner said this year’s vaccine is thus far proving effective.
“As of right now, we appear to have a pretty good match between the viruses we see and the viruses in our vaccine,” Skinner said.
Vaccines are recommended every year, Skinner and Caldewey agreed, and are especially important for the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases such as cancer or diabetes. The vaccine is safe for infants aged 6 months and older, and can be obtained from a primary care physician, health centers or a variety of area pharmacies.
Skinner said, so far this year, 124 million Americans have been vaccinated, with another 135 million doses waiting to be given out. Unlike in previous seasons, there is no shortage of flu shots this year.
“Producers are manufacturing a steady supply,” Skinner said.
Since the vaccine can take up to two weeks to become fully effective, health officials in Sonoma County are recommending residents gets vaccinated as soon as possible. “Better now, before it really hits in California,” Caldewey said.