By Laura Onyeneho
Currently, Texas, Georgia and Washington D.C. are all seeing high flu activity and it’s only the beginning of the season. Health experts say this season is likely to be severe and according to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Disease, nearly half of Americans don’t plan to get vaccinated against the flu this year.
We might have passed the crisis stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dr. Carla M. Davis, director of Texas Children’s Hospital Food Allergy Program, said this is not the time to let your guard down and encourages everyone to consider getting the flu shot.
Dr. Davis spoke with the Defender about flu season and misinformation regarding immunizations.
Defender: Why does flu season demand our attention this year?
Davis: We believe that there is a potential for it to be a very bad flu season…We want to make sure that people stay out of the hospital with the flu.
Hundreds and thousands of people are hospitalized a year for the flu. We know vaccines can keep people out of the hospitals. The flu season in the southeast and Texas is at a very high level.
Defender: Has pandemic fatigue affected immunization rates?
Davis: I think that because there have been COVID vaccines and boosters, people may think that they don’t need to get a flu vaccine or even a COVID booster, but that’s not the case. The flu vaccine has been updated this year so that it has coverage for influenza A and B. For people who are 65 and older, there are special higher dose vaccines that have been shown to protect older individuals who are higher risk. The flu can also impact children less than 18. So, everybody who is eligible at six months or older should get their flu vaccines this winter to decrease the risk of serious hospitalizations.
Defender: How can people tell the difference between the COVID-19 and the flu?
Davis: It’s very difficult to tell. The best thing to do is to get tested. Another thing people should know are what the warning signs are and if you are diagnosed with flu, just like there is an oral medication for COVID, there is an oral anti-flu medication that can be taken to decrease the chances of symptoms, hospitalization, and death. Treatments with an antiviral medication should be taken within 48 hours after symptoms start. The emergency signs of the flu are difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, pain in the chest, dizziness, confusion, muscle pains and fever.
Defender: What are common myths about the flu that people believe but aren’t true?
Davis: The first is that the flu vaccine causes the flu. When a vaccine is given, it causes the immune system to be slightly activated which may cause mild symptoms, but it’s not the flu. If a person has had a history of having some mild symptoms after the flu vaccine, they need to know that the symptoms with the vaccine are much less than the symptoms you actually get the infection. Another one would be when they say you can’t take the flu vaccines if you have an egg allergy. You can now take it. For children there are cell-based flu vaccines that don’t have egg in them.
Defender: A recent survey said half of Americans don’t plan to get the shot? How could this impact flu activity?
Davis: The virus can still travel in all of those unvaccinated people and the flu season will last longer. Additionally, more people will be hospitalized and die.
Defender: After getting the flu shot, the work to protect yourself doesn’t end there. What are your recommendations?
Davis: If you experience any of the emergency signs, call your physician in order to get antiviral medication as soon as possible. If you have a very high-risk condition like lung disease or your immunocompromised, I still recommend you continue to wear a mask during this winter season.