The usual influenza season lost the limelight over the course of the past 2-3 odd years amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but experts fear that it could be back even earlier this year, and could potentially hit Americans even harder. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention’s annual FluView Report for the 2022-2023 flu season, U.S. influenza activity this year is relatively low.
That said, cases of the virus are starting to increase at an earlier time frame than average. Experts think this could be a potentially worrying sign. When compounded with a pandemic-scale virus that hasn’t quite entered the endemic phase yet, this could potentially be a troubling, foreboding sign of what some researchers are nicknaming a possible “twindemic”. (JAMA Network)
The Centers For Disease Control estimates that the annual flu season causes between 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations a year on average. Compound that with continual COVID issues, and we could be looking at an above-average flu season this year. Here is what you should know about the increasingly early influenza season, and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Can Flu Season Start In August?
The influenza virus can circulate year-round but is unlikely to spread quite as frequently in warmer weather summer months. This is because warmer weather tends to weaken the virus, whereas colder weather tends to strengthen its “outer layer”, increasing the viruses’ spread and transmission.
However, the CDC’s FluView report noted slightly more frequent cases as of late May this past year, indicative of a slightly earlier uptick than usual. Moreover, as the country moves into its actual flu season, the CDC’s weekly influenza map currently shows a markedly high infection transmission rate in New York City, the District of Columbia, and the following 12 states:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
These transmission rates are uncharacteristically high for where they usually are this time of year. Although a public health emergency or “twindemic” event has not yet been formally declared, experts are encouraging people to exercise additional caution in case these rising early cases portend an exacerbated surge of flu cases in the winter.
Dr. Alicia Fry, the CDC’s Influenza Epidemiology Chief, voiced concerns to NPR that reactionary anti-vaccine and anti-containment sentiments could worsen influenza spread and heighten the risk of a possible “twindemic” event. "We are worried that people will not get vaccinated… …The wild card here is we don't know how many mitigation practices people will use."
If you’re wondering just how important and how powerful vaccinations are as a preventative measure, and wondering how you can effectively utilize mitigation practices to protect the people around you.
Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Against Flu Season Deaths
According to the CDC, as of now, over 105 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States. CDC-supported data indicates that vaccination is capable of reducing disease transmission rates as much as anywhere between 40-60 percent, making vaccines a crucial weapon on the front lines of fighting flu season mortality.
As for how these prevention tactics tie into slowing the spread and mortality rate of the flu, subsequent CDC data found that vaccinated patients had a 26% lower risk of ICU (intensive care unit) transmission, and a 31% lower risk of mortality than individuals who were unvaccinated.
This makes annual flu vaccination an indispensable tool for curtailing the spread of flu, especially as climate change continues to exacerbate the mortality of diseases like influenza. But if you’re wondering how to properly prepare and brace for what experts anticipate could potentially be an extra rocky flu season, here are some mitigation practices to consider.
Flu Season Health Tips
Below are some CDC-endorsed tips to stay safe through the flu season and reduce transmission:
- Washing your hands frequently, and touching your face infrequently
- Covering your mouth and nose with your elbow when coughing
- Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school
- Managing your stress and maintaining your overall mental wellness
- Keeping up a healthy dieting and exercise regimen every day
- Getting your annual flu shot from the nearest clinic in your area
If necessary, a doctor might be able to prescribe you antiviral flu drugs while you’re self-isolating to help alleviate your symptoms at home. FDA-approved pharmaceutical medicines which have proven efficacy at treating flu symptoms include:
- Tamiflu/Oseltamivir Phosphate
- Xofluza/Baloxavir Marboxil
Symptoms may not escalate to the severity of needing these antivirals, but you might face a potentially greater risk of suffering from a more severe flu case if you are:
- The age of 65 or older (conversely, infants 2 and younger are also vulnerable)
- Suffer from any lung, heart, kidney, and liver diseases
- Have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater
- Suffer from any metabolic or endocrine disorders
- Immunocompromised through disease or medical care
- Pregnant or have not yet reached two weeks post-pregnancy
- Dealing with allergies or asthma
Even if you don’t fit one of those at-risk criteria, it’s still better to remain safe than sorry - especially if any loved ones or people you care about fall under those risks.
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Flu Season Is Upon Us - Stay Safe With Sesame
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