Health officials in the United States are urging Americans to get flu shots as soon as possible. The advisory comes after predictions of a severe flu season coming to the Northern Hemisphere.
The forecast is based on the clues coming from the Southern Hemisphere, where winter has just ended. This year, Australia experienced an early peak in the number of flu cases.
According to the Influenza Surveillance Report made by Australia’s Department of Health, 662 people died from this year’s flu season. They also recorded about 270,000 cases of flu.
The report says this has been one of the worst flu outbreaks in the country. Australia was hit hard by a virulent flu strain called H3N2. This strain was said to cause more serious illnesses.
While the Australian flu season does not always predict the one that’s going to occur in the United States, health experts consider it.
“When data started coming out of Australia, it got everyone’s attention. It put us on notice to start making sure we’re ready, maybe even a little earlier than we already are,” said Dr. William Linam, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
According to a pediatrician from Georgia, Dr. Hugo Scornik, no one can predict the severity of the upcoming season or pinpoint the strains that will be in circulation even when the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere has been severe.
At the beginning of 2019, several states witnessed a late surge in the H3N2 flu strain. However, in Georgia, for example, the strain was present at the start of the season. In Georgia’s 2017-2018 flu season, it was considered to be extreme with 145 recorded deaths. There were also 3,000 hospitalization cases related to flu in the Atlanta area alone.
In the United States, about 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu. Thousands were hospitalized with leading to complications — including deaths. The flu is characterized by symptoms such as headache, fever, and muscle pains. If it becomes complicated, it can lead to pneumonia. People living with chronic health conditions, young kids, and seniors are more at risk of getting flu-related complications.
Flu shots are generally free in schools and companies. However, more than a third of the American population decline the offer. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it takes about two weeks after the flu vaccine has been administered for the antibodies to develop.
The effectiveness of the flu vaccines vary. For the past couple of years, the effect has been between 40% to 60%. Health experts say that if a person catches the flu, the vaccine can offer patient protection. It can help decrease the severity of the illness and reduce the chances of complications.