HCN News & Notes

Officials Predict Severe Flu Season, Urge Vaccination

SPRINGFIELD — While much has been made in the national and local news about the number of flu cases increasing, along with the possibility that this year’s vaccine might not be a good match, there is no reason to panic, said Dr. Daniel Skiest, vice chair of the Department of Medicine and an infectious-disease specialist at Baystate Medical Center.

“The flu may be starting a bit early this year. In most years, it starts in late December or January, but it varies. We monitor flu activity in our laboratory and have recorded seven flu cases in the past week. That’s compared to 12 confirmed cases of the flu in all of October and November,” Skiest said. “There is potential for spread of the flu during the holiday season as people are more likely to be in crowds or among smaller groups at parties or family gatherings. This closer contact can result in an increase in flu cases.”

He noted that, given the facts about the rise in cases, if you haven’t been vaccinated against the flu yet, now is definitely the time. “It takes about two weeks after being vaccinated for antibodies to develop in your body to protect you from the flu. And, since there is some question that the flu might peak around the holidays, my recommendation is to not wait any longer.”

He also noted that it is important to receive the flu vaccine every year, since the vaccine changes annually, and protection only lasts about one year.

“It’s especially important for older adults and people with underlying health conditions such as cancer, emphysema, and HIV to be vaccinated since we know they have greater risk of serious complications from the flu,” Skiest said. “In addition to the elderly, vaccination is particularly important for younger children who are also at high risk for serious flu complications, as well as those with heart disease, and pregnant women. The most important complication that can affect both high-risk adults and children is pneumonia. The flu can also aggravate and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. The flu is nothing to take lightly, and people still die from its complications.”

In the United States alone, some 36,000 people die each flu season, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized with severe, often life-threatening complications.

Dr. Skiest noted that, in addition to getting the flu vaccine, there are other measures to take to protect yourself and others from the flu. “Staying away from those with the virus, washing your hands with soap and water, and covering your mouth when coughing or your nose when sneezing help with prevention.”