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Bacteria & Viruses | flu | healthcare

What to Look for This Flu Season

January 13, 2021 | By Amy Carpenter
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At any given moment throughout the day, I’ve found that I can relate to at least one (if not more) of the seven dwarfs. On good days, I’m happy and only slightly dopey, and on bad days, I’m grumpy and sleepy and extra dopey.

On the very worst days? You guessed it — I’m sneezy.

Of course, no time of year produces more sneezes than flu season. According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, “In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. While influenza viruses circulate year-round, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May.”

With it being January, we’re smack-dab in the middle of flu season, and on top of that, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. (Hear that? It’s me gulping in terror.) With so many uncertainties, it comes with the territory to have false information flying around — which makes it more important than ever to be able to separate fact from fiction.

And that’s why we’re here: to answer your most pressing questions about flu season. Let’s get started!

Who is the Most Susceptible to Contracting the Flu?

A thermometer

The flu typically accounts for around 40,000 deaths in the United States per year, and, according to Northwestern Medicine’s website, nearly all of those who die are elderly. The website further explains, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that people ages 65 and older account for between 71 percent and 85 percent of flu-related deaths and 54 percent to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S.”

While the elderly are the most likely to have complications associated with the flu (or in other words, the most likely to get extremely sick and need hospitalization), it’s actually another group entirely who appears to contract the flu the most: children. The CDC conducted a study in 2018 on the flu, and its findings showed that children under the age of 18 were twice as likely to contract the flu as the elderly. Regarding the study, the CDC’s website reads, “Median incidence values (or attack rate) by age group were 9.3% for children 0-17 years, 8.8% for adults 18-64 years, and 3.9% for adults 65 years and older.”

Children, then, are clearly the most likely to get the flu, while the elderly are most likely to be harmed by it. Other groups that are susceptible to flu complications are those with compromised immune systems (including pregnant women) and underlying health conditions.

How Severe is This Year’s Flu Season?

Due to COVID-19 and the expected resurgence of cases during the peak of flu season, predicting the severity of the 2020-2021 flu season is a little tricky. The overlap of symptoms (including coughing, fatigue, fever, aching, chills, and even runny noses) may delay diagnoses and treatment.

Everyday Health quoted William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor of preventative medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt, as saying, “If you’ve seen one flu season, you’ve seen one flu season. None of us really know what to expect this year, except that we will have a flu season.”

That being said, the flu season in the northern hemisphere often mimics the flu season that swept through the southern hemisphere — and this year, it did not have a particularly severe flu season, which is (hopefully) good news for those here in the northern hemisphere.

How Can a Flu Vaccine Help?

The short answer to this question is honestly how can’t a flu vaccine help?!

The CDC has an entire page on the benefits of getting a flu vaccine this season, and the top reads, “It’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread this fall and winter. Healthcare systems could be overwhelmed treating both patients with flu and patients with COVID-19. This means getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever.” 

Getting a flu vaccine will not only help you, but your entire community! Personal benefits, however, are also significant. The flu vaccine can prevent you from becoming ill (and significantly reduce the severity of your symptoms should you get sick) and is extremely important for people who are at high risk for flu complications, which we have spoken about in further detail above. The flu vaccine can be life-saving for so many people, from children to the elderly, and is an essential ingredient to having healthier individuals and communities.

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, it's important to continue wearing masks, sanitizing our hands (and phones, of course!), and practicing good hygiene. We want to stop the flu (and COVID) in its tracks any way we can.

What questions do you have about the 2020-2021 flu season? Leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer!

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