This year’s vaccine may be only 10 percent effective but experts say it's still the best bet to avoid getting hit by the flu

Flu is on the rise — just in time for the holidays, when people are out and about more than ever. More shopping, parties and family gatherings make for a perfect storm for spreading flu.

Last week, state health officials raised the activity level for this season’s influenza from “sporadic” to “local.” That means more confirmed cases, said registered nurse Cathy Lucas, infection control nurse at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center. She was running the walk-in flu clinic for veterans on Thursday at the VA with registered nurse John Bagley. Also Thursday, Ontario County Public Health released a warning that flu is on the rise and will likely continue to increase with holiday travel and related activities.

“The best protection against flu is vaccination...unvaccinated individuals should seek out flu vaccine from their healthcare provider or local pharmacy,” according to county Public Health.

Getting vaccinated is no guarantee the flu won’t get you. Typically, the flu shot is 40 to 60 percent effective. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that this year’s flu vaccine may be only about 10 percent effective. That’s because developing a vaccine is not an exact science. It is based on research that begins several months before each flu season. Experts identify the strains of influenza virus they think will infect people in the Northern Hemisphere based on what made people sick in the Southern Hemisphere’s most recent flu season.

Even a less effective vaccine can reduce the severity of flu — so getting vaccinated is still the best protection, experts say. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu vaccines helped avert an estimated 40,000 deaths between 2005 and 2014.

Lucas said some people are reluctant to get the flu vaccine, thinking it will make them sick or not protect them. She assured that the vaccine does not make a person ill. It will also not make you sicker if you have already been infected by the virus. You can spread the flu virus before you have symptoms, she added. She emphasized that even a less effective vaccine can help you fight off the most severe symptoms.

Symptoms usually occur suddenly and may include headache, fever, chills, body and muscle aches, severe fatigue, congestion and cough.

At Wayne County Public Health, registered nurse Christine Gedney, communicable disease coordinator, also urged people to get vaccinated — and now, if you haven’t been already. Once you get the flu shot, it takes about two weeks for the antibodies to build up that protect you from flu, she said.

Registered nurse Michelle Vignari, Thompson Health director of infection prevention, said that, as of Nov. 27, Thompson so far this season had seen three flu cases confirmed in its lab. None of those people infected were admitted to the hospital. Also as of Nov. 27, Ontario County had so far had seven confirmed cases. In Wayne County, Gedney said there had been one confirmed case.

The state Department of Health, in its weekly flu report for the week ending Nov. 25, stated 36 of the state’s 62 counties reported cases. Statewide there were 212 laboratory-confirmed influenza reports, a 38 percent increase over last week. Health officials say prevalence of flu is greater than what is reported, as not all cases are confirmed in a lab.

CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Additional ways to prevent flu include frequent hand-washing (or using an alcohol-based hand gel if you can’t wash with soap and water); avoiding contact with sick people; covering coughs and sneezes; and staying home when you are sick.


New flu info for 2017-18

Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

In 2017, a study in Pediatrics was the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination also significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from influenza. The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected from flu, including older people, very young children, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention